Monday, March 26, 2012

Celebrity Email Hacker Pleads Guilty, Reminds Us of Online Account Safety

Christopher ChaneyChristopher Chaney, the 35-year old Floridian who was arrested last year for hacking the email accounts of 50 celebrities, plead guilty in court Monday to nine felony counts, including unauthorized access to a computer and wiretapping.

During his hearing, Chaney admitted to gaining access to the email accounts of Hollywood stars like Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera and Scarlett Johansson by correctly guessing the answers to the ‘Forgot your password?’ security questions in order to reset their passwords.

Chaney was able to collect the information he needed to provide the proper responses by monitoring the celebrities’ social media accounts and conducting online searches.

Once inside the target account, Chaney rifled through the emails, looked through contact lists for additional hacking targets and setup a rule to forward a copy of all incoming emails to a secondary email address that he controlled.

3 of Chaney's Targets: Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera, Scarlett JohanssonThe digital goods Chaney took away from his unauthorized access included copies of private conversations, confidential documents and personal photographs, including the nude pictures of Scarlett Johansson that were then forwarded to another hacker and two celebrity gossip sites that released them to the public.

Although all of the individuals targeted by Chaney were Hollywood stars, it still serves as a reminder that users should take precautions to avoid having their privacy invaded by a clever hacker that’s able to transform the information available online into full-blown unauthorized account access.

Keep Your Online Accounts Safe from Attackers

  • Be careful what information you share online. You may be tempted to spill your life story to a complete stranger online, but you never know if they will turn around and use that information against you.

  • Always use strong passwords. It may be tempting to use your dog’s name as your password, but just because ‘Shadow’ makes a great pet name doesn’t mean it makes a great password. Use alphanumeric passwords with special characters to prevent attackers from cracking your password.

  • Don’t share the same passwords across multiple sites. If you do, you’re basically handing all of your accounts over on a silver platter.

  • Set a difficult security question & answer. Setting an easy to guess security question and answer defeats the entire purpose of the feature. Be sure to set one that only you know the answer to.

  • Don’t take naughty photos with your phone.  This should be pretty obvious – how many celebrities have had their nude photos leaked to the public?

Update: Christopher Chaney was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison by a U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles on Monday, December 17th, 2012.

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