Andrew Helton, 29, of Portland, pleaded guilty on Thursday to a felony computer hacking charge and admitted to hacking the Apple and Gmail accounts of 363 people, including several celebrities.
The Oregon man has pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, specifically a charge of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information. Helton faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison, according to an announcement form the Department of Justice (DoJ).
Helton’s plea agreement reveals that, between March 2011 and May 2013, he engaged in a phishing scheme that allowed him to obtain usernames and passwords of 363 Apple and Google e-mail accounts. As part of the phishing scheme, Helton sent his victims emails that appeared to come from Apple and Google, asking them to “verify” their accounts by clicking on a link.
However, once the victims clicked on the link, they were redirected to a malicious website impersonating an Apple or Google login page. When the victims entered their usernames and passwords on the fake login page, Helton collected them, which allowed him to access the victims’ e-mail accounts.
The phishing scheme allowed Helton obtain around 448 usernames and passwords for 363 e-mail accounts, many of which belonged to members of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. Helton used the acquired information to illegally access and view the contents of said email accounts, and he also obtained 161 sexually explicit, nude and/or partially nude images of approximately 13 victims, some of whom were celebrities.
In September 2014, Apple and the FBI started an investigation into a hack that resulted in the private photos and videos of celebrities being leaked online. The content was stolen from Apple's iCloud in what the company called a “targeted attack,” and security experts responded to a SecurityWeek Feedback Friday inquiry on the safety of our data online and on how we can protect our data.
In December, 23-year-old Alonzo Knowles from the Bahamas, also known as “Jeff Moxey,” was accused of stealing personal information, scripts for upcoming movies and TV shows, unreleased music tracks, and sexually explicit videos from victims’ accounts. In 2012, a man was sentenced to 10 years in jail for breaking into the email accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera and other celebrities.
Helton’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 2.