Blog Teacher pleads guilty to hacking celebrities and students in “Celebgate”
Robert Siciliano November 5, 2018

Teacher pleads guilty to hacking celebrities and students in “Celebgate”

Remember “Celebgate,” the massive exposure of celebrity nude photos from 2014? Well, four years later, another person has finally pled guilty to the charges—and this time, it’s a teacher.

Christopher Brannan, a former Virginia high school teacher, wasn’t just exposing photos of celebrities, however; he was also revealing photos of his students.

Brannan pled guilty to hacking into iCloud backup accounts and obtaining photos and private information from more than 200 people, including celebrities. Additionally, he hacked into the accounts of his own sister-in-law (who was a minor at the time) and both students and teachers at the high school where he worked.

He accomplished this by studying the victims’ social media accounts to unearth the answers to commonly-asked security questions. He would then ‘phish’ account usernames and passwords by using spoofed email addresses to lure the victims into clicking on spammy links.

This info enabled him to hack into the accounts; once he had access, he could find private videos and photos and download the entire contents of a victim’s iCloud account.

For his crimes, Brannon will spend a minimum of two years in jail. He could spend up to seven years. Though he hasn’t yet been sentenced, both his lawyers and prosecutors are recommending 34 months.

The other people who have been charged include:

  • Edward Majerczyk – He pled guilty in 2017 to hacking over 300 Gmail and iCloud accounts, 30 of which belonged to celebrities. He took private videos, photos, and other sensitive information.
  • Emilio Herrera – Currently serving 16 months in prison. His home IP address was found to be accessing more than 570 different iCloud accounts.
  • Ryan Collins – He was sentenced to 18 months in jail for his involvement in the scam.
  • George Garofano – Sentenced to eight months in prison and three years of supervised release. He was found guilty of phishing information from more than 240 iCloud accounts of both celebrities and non-celebrities. He spread the photos across the internet for all to see.

How you can protect yourself

Whether you’re a celebrity or not, it’s imperative that you take steps to protect yourself from this type of situation. Social media sites like Facebook are implementing measures to strengthen their platforms, too; though in Facebook’s case, this was in part due to its recent major security scandals.

Keep in mind that everything you post online is public unless you have specifically made your accounts private. So, think about what you post before you post it. Tagging your mother, mentioning the high school you went to, or talking about your first car could all help a hacker access your accounts as these would be common account security questions.

Consider making all of your social media accounts private. Also, add two-factor authentication to every social media account, email account, and cloud service that you use. Be aware that people are out there trying to hack into these accounts on a daily basis; be midful about the sensitive info you store on the cloud, even if you’re taking every security measure.

These simple changes will make it far more difficult for bad guys to access your videos, photos, and other personal information. And make sure you download Hotspot Shield for free to protect your devices from hackers and retain your online privacy. 

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Robert Siciliano
About Robert Siciliano

Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft expert consultant to Hotspot Shield. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. FInd Robert Siciliano on Google+

View all posts by Robert Siciliano
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