A Chicago man has agreed to plead guilty to breaking into more than 550 iCloud and Gmail accounts, including those of multiple high-profile female celebrities in 2014, that led to their nude photos being leaked online. Emilio Herrera, 32, signed a plea agreement and is expected to plead guilty to a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
He is expected to plead guilty to one count of unauthorised access to a protected computer to obtain information and could face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
From April 27, 2013 until the end of August 2014, Herrera used a phishing scheme to trick victims into divulging their login credentials by sending phony emails that appeared to be from Apple or Google, according to the plea agreement. After the victims responded, Herrera then used their credentials to illegally access their iCloud and Gmail accounts. Once inside their accounts, he had access to their personal information, including sensitive and private photographs and videos.
The case against Herrera is part of an ongoing FBI investigation into the so-called 'Celebgate' or 'Fappening' leak that saw hundreds of photos stolen from celebrities' iCloud accounts, many of which contained nudity. These photos were then posted onto the 4chan forum before they were shared across multiple websites and social networks including Imgur, Reddit and Tumblr.
Some of the celebrities affected in the hack included Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, Cara Delevingne, Kim Kardashian and US soccer player Hope Solo.
However, investigators have not found any evidence linking Herrera to the online leaks or that he shared or uploaded the material he obtained online, according to court documents.
Another Illinois man, 29-year-old Edward Majerczyk, was sentenced to nine months in federal prison earlier this year over similar charges. In October 2016, 36-year-old Ryan Collins from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.
Many celebrities publicly addressed the massive leak in interviews after their private photos spread across various websites. In a 2014 interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence described the leak as a "sex crime".
"Just because I'm a public figure, just because I'm an actress, does not mean that I asked for this," she had said at the time. "It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It's my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can't believe that we even live in that kind of world."