The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 17, 2012

Hollywood hacker honed his skills for years


Associated Press

— LOS ANGELES (AP) — Long before Christopher Chaney made headlines by hacking into the email accounts of such stars as Scarlett Johansson and Christina Aguilera, two other women say he harassed and stalked them online.

The women, who both knew Chaney, say their lives have been irreparably damaged by his actions. One has anxiety and panic attacks; the other is depressed and paranoid. Both say Chaney was calculated, cruel and creepy: he sent nude photos they had taken of themselves to their family members.

Their accounts as cybervictims serve as a cautionary tale for those, even major celebrities, who snap personal, and sometimes revealing photos.

Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Fla., is set to be sentenced Monday and could face up to 60 years in prison after pleading guilty to nine felony counts, including wiretapping and unauthorized access to a computer, for hacking into email accounts of Aguilera, Johansson and Mila Kunis.

Aguilera said in a statement that although she knows that she's often in the limelight, Chaney took from her some of the private moments she shares with friends.

"That feeling of security can never be given back and there is no compensation that can restore the feeling one has from such a large invasion of privacy," Aguilera said.

Prosecutors said Chaney illegally accessed the email accounts of more than 50 people in the entertainment industry between November 2010 and October 2011. Aguilera, Kunis and Johansson agreed to have their identities made public with the hopes that the exposure about the case would provide awareness about online intrusion.

The biggest spectacle in the case was the revelation that nude photos taken by Johansson herself and meant for her then-husband Ryan Reynolds were taken by Chaney and put on the Internet. The "Avengers" actress is not expected to attend the hearing, but she has videotaped a statement that may be shown in court.

Some of Aguilera's photos appeared online after Chaney sent an email from the account of her stylist, Simone Harouche, to Aguilera asking the singer for scantily clad photographs, prosecutors said.

Chaney forwarded many of the photographs to two gossip websites and another hacker, but there wasn't evidence he profited from his scheme, authorities said.

For the two women, who were only identified in court papers by their initials, their encounters with Chaney went from friendly to frightening.

One of the women, identified by the initials T.B., said she first met Chaney online in 1999 when she was 13 years old. She began talking with a girl named "Jessica" that later turned out to actually be Chaney.

Chaney figured out his victims' email passwords and security questions and set a feature to forward a copy of every email they received to an account he controlled.

The woman said that in February 2009 her friends contacted her and let her know that several nude photos of her were uploaded to a public gallery. A year later, Chaney sent a link to a photo-sharing website he created and had her nude pictures sent to her father.

She said she spends several hours a week monitoring the Internet for her personal information and breaks into a sweat whenever she receives a Google alert email notifying her that her name has been mentioned online.

In her letter to U.S. District Judge S. James Otero, she said she thinks Chaney won't stop and she still feels like he has control over her reputation, relationships and career.

Chaney was arrested in October 2011 as part of a yearlong investigation of celebrity hacking that authorities dubbed "Operation Hackerazzi." Chaney's computer hard drive contained numerous private celebrity photos and a document that compiled their extensive personal data, according to a search warrant.

Chaney has since apologized for what he has done, but prosecutors are recommending a nearly six-year prison sentence for him. They also want him to pay $150,000 in restitution, including about $66,000 to Johansson.

The second woman, identified in court papers only as T.C., said she was a close friend of Chaney's for more than a decade. As early as 2003 she noticed her passwords were being reset and email she hadn't looked at had been read by someone. She also said Chaney forwarded an invitation to an online photo gallery to her brother, who eventually saw naked pictures of her.

The woman said the night before she got married, Chaney deleted her email account and she was unable to correspond with a notary until she created a new email address.

In her letter to the judge, the woman said she's been broken by the physical and emotional toll and can no longer recall what it was like to have a private life.