Federal prosecutors have charged a Bahamas man with felony criminal copyright infringement and identity theft for hacking 130 celebrities’ email accounts and stealing unreleased movie scripts, sex tapes and Social Security numbers, according to The New York Times.
Alonzo Knowles, 23, appeared in Federal District Court in New York City on Tuesday and was ordered detained. Clay Kaminsky, his attorney, declined to comment. Each of the charges carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Hacker Contacts Radio Host
It all started when a famous radio host received an email with an offer for scripts from the first six episodes of an upcoming hit TV drama. After discussing prices, a video chat was arranged with an interested buyer. Knowles allegedly sent some pages from the TV scripts and that of an unreleased comedy film. He also promised even rarer entertainment industry material, according to a criminal complaint. He allegedly offered to sell a hip hop biopic, another TV show and three comedy films’ scripts, in addition to other materials.
The radio host called the executive producer of one of the stolen TV scripts. The network that was responsible for the program then alerted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
An undercover agent then arranged a meeting with Knowles in December. Knowles allegedly attempted to sell the agent several athletes’ and one actress’s Social Security numbers in addition to 15 scripts for $80,000.
Prosecutors charged Knowles with acquiring 30 unreleased tracks to be included on one celebrity’s album, Social Security numbers for professional actors and athletes, and the first six episodes of a TV drama in production.
How He Did It
Knowles allegedly gained access by first looking at the celebrities’ photos and then hacking into their friends’ email accounts, according to The Guardian. The friends’ emails gave him access to the celebrities’ personal information.
Knowles allegedly texted the celebrities’ phone numbers saying their accounts had been hacked.
The celebrities replied to these texts with their passwords, allowing Knowles to gain access to their accounts. Once he gained access, he sent a virus that gave him access to information stored on the hard drive. Prosecutors said he then allegedly adjusted their email settings to enable ongoing access.
While none of the victims’ names were released, a report includes some of the stolen items.
Knowles also allegedly gained access to sexually-explicit images and a video from another radio host’s email inbox.
Preet Bharara, a Manhattan U.S. attorney, said the case has the elements of a script Knowles had stolen, along with identity theft, hacks into celebrities’ emails, and attempts to sell information to the highest bidder. But unfortunately, the agent said, the circumstances are real.
Also read: Taylor Swift hacked on Twitter and Instagram, naked photographs ransomed for bitcoin
Feds Prevent Big Hacking Scheme
The arrest has prevented a hacking scheme targeting many people, including some in the entertainment industry, said George Sorge, the acting special agent in charge.
The operation demonstrates Homeland Security Investigation’s commitment to targeting persons who use the cyber space for illegal financial gain, he said.
The arrest comes about a year after confidential information from Sony Pictures Entertainment was stolen and released online.
Featured image from Shutterstock.