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The man responsible for leaking explicit photos of dozens of celebrities back in 2014 has been formally charged today. According to a post on the Department of Justice website, a man from Pennsylvania has been charged with felony computer hacking after obtaining access to Gmail and iCloud accounts of more than 100 different people, the majority of whom were celebrities.

The hacker, 36-year-old Ryan Collins, has signed a plea agreement and agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Colin was charged in Los Angeles, but the case will be transferred to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Collins is expected prison sentence of 18 months, although it could be as long as five years.

In addition to revealing sentencing details, however, the filing also reveals more details as to how Collins was able to obtain access to the accounts of the affected celebrities. According to the filing, Collins engaged in a phishing scheme between November 2012 and September 2014. Collins would apparently send emails to celebrities that appeared to be from Apple or Google and asked for login details. Once Collins had those details, he was able to access email accounts and iCloud accounts. From there, Collins obtained information such as nude images and videos, as well as phone numbers. In the case of Apple accounts, Collins would download the entire contents of the victim’s iCloud backup, as well.

While Collins accessed at least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts, law enforcement has still been unable to prove that he was the person who shared the nude images on the internet, so if that evidence is discovered, it could potentially lengthen his sentence.

We reported on the initial iCloud hack back in 2014, but details were unknown at the time. Apple said that it was “actively investigating” the alleged hacking, but we now know that Apple played a small role in the process, as it was the celebrities who fell victim to phishing scams.

The full report can be read below:

Pennsylvania Man Charged with Hacking Apple and Google E-Mail Accounts Belonging to More Than 100 People, Mostly Celebrities

            LOS ANGELES – A Pennsylvania man was charged today with felony computer hacking related to a phishing scheme that gave him illegal access to over 100 Apple and Google e-mail accounts, including those belonging to members of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.

Ryan Collins, 36, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has signed a plea agreement and agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In the plea agreement also filed today, Collins agreed to plead guilty to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information.

“Today, people store important private information in their online accounts and in their digital devices,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Lawless unauthorized access to such private information is a criminal offense. My Office remains committed to protecting sensitive and personal information from the malicious actions of sophisticated hackers and cyber criminals.”

According to factual basis in the plea agreement, from November 2012 until the beginning of September 2014, Collins engaged in a phishing scheme to obtain usernames and passwords for his victims. He sent e-mails to victims that appeared to be from Apple or Google and asked victims to provider their usernames and passwords. When the victims responded, Collins then had access to the victims’ e-mail accounts. After illegally accessing the e-mail accounts, Collins obtained personal information including nude photographs and videos, according to his plea agreement. In some instances, Collins would use a software program to download the entire contents of the victims’ Apple iCloud backups.

The charge against Collins stems from the investigation into the leaks of photographs of numerous female celebrities in September 2014 known as “Celebgate.” However, investigators have not uncovered any evidence linking Collins to the actual leaks or that Collins shared or uploaded the information he obtained.

Many of Collins’ victims were members of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. By illegally accessing the e-mail accounts, Collins accessed at least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts, most of which belonged to female celebrities.

“By illegally accessing intimate details of his victims’ personal lives, Mr. Collins violated their privacy and left many to contend with lasting emotional distress, embarrassment and feelings of insecurity,” said David Bowdich, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “We continue to see both celebrities and victims from all walks of life suffer the consequences of this crime and strongly encourage users of Internet-connected devices to strengthen passwords and to be skeptical when replying to emails asking for personal information.”

The case against Collins is the product of an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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Customer Service: The Man Behind The Conversational Curtain

Companies embracing social media are to be applauded. However, if the effort ends at the conversation a company is merely covering a gaping wound with a band aid.

The issue is that many companies have a disconnect between their social media efforts and their core internal processes.

My Travel Nightmare

Search & Social for sometime was using Travelocity as our travel booking engine of choice. We spend a good amount of money in a 12 month period on travel due to our busy conference schedule, and we trusted this business to Travelocity.

In March, when I was set to attend SES NY, I noticed that my flight had been booked for a red eye, which for me was not acceptable since I had to present early the next day. I tried to change my flight via Travelocity but was sent through hoops since I had booked my flight and hotel as a package. It looked like I was going to be unable to find a solution for my problem, and Travelocity looked as though they did not want to salvage a valuable customer.

I tweeted about my experience and quickly got a response from one of the Travelocity accounts.


I talked via email with a PR rep who was handling the social media for the company, and he was going to look into my issue and get me a resolution. However, after some time, he was unable to get my issue resolved due to a disconnect between him and customer service. Travelocity had not given him the tools he needed in order to effectively leverage the social conversation he was involved in. This made me even angrier as I was now not even able to book a new flight. Social media had made the situation worse by soaking up valuable time. We have never used Travelocity again.

An Organizational Analogy

Social media is a key for companies that can unlock immense ROI. For one, it can save companies from a costly firestorm that could not only tank profits but also cost money to cleanup. Beyond that obvious circumstance, it also serves as a valuable public relations tool, can help you get feedback on products, allows you to monitor customer conversation for market research, and can help resolve customer service issues that might normally turn into the aforementioned firestorm.

If social media is a key to unlocking the full potential of a functioning company, then internal organizations such as customer service function as the ignition. For the engine to start from the use of the key there MUST be a connection between the key and ignition. Travelocity did not have this connection. The social media caretaker on their end was treated like a customer and not an internal worker trying to get results. A company must arm their social media team with the tools needed to completely unlock the platforms potential, either that or their presence is little more than a farce, and in the end it could do more harm than good, as was the case in our situation.

In the end, social media isn’t a cure all to fix what ails yah. It is another marketing and public relations weapon to add to your arsenal. Your presence is a necessity. Connecting that presence to functioning internal processes is the next step, and without it your social campaign may be nothing more than a curtain covering up your company’s inadequacies.

Apple Found Guilty Of Orchestrating E

A court Wednesday found Apple had conspired to increase the prices of e-books, setting a separate trial for damages.

In a 159-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote wrote that “Apple played a central role” in the conspiracy, which the company flatly denied.

The government has charged Apple with working with five publishers together to undercut Amazon’s control of the market. In response to the verdict, some watchers opined that the government playing so openly into the hand of a monopolist like Amazon may reduce competition…

Reuters and Bloomberg have this quote from Cote’s ruling:

The plaintiffs have shown that the publisher defendants conspired with each other to eliminate retail price competition in order to raise e-book prices, and that Apple played a central role in facilitating and executing the conspiracy.

She also wrote that “Apple seized the moment and brilliantly played its hand”.

As a result of the collusion, some e-book prices rose to $12.99 or $14.99 from the $9.99 charged by Amazon, the court said. Apple was the only remaining defendant in the case, after publishers settled with the U.S. government and various states.

A trial for damages will follow soon. Apple will of course appeal the ruling. “We will continue to fight against these false accusations,” Apple told AllThingsD.

Apple did not conspire to fix ebook pricing and we will continue to fight against these false accusations.

When we introduced the iBookstore in 2010, we gave customers more choice, injecting much needed innovation and competition into the market, breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry.

We’ve done nothing wrong and we will appeal the judge’s decision.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Justice called the ruling “a victory” for millions of consumers who choose to read books electronically.

Through today’s court decision and previous settlements with five major publishers, consumers are again benefitting from retail price competition and paying less for their e-books.

Apple executives hoped to ensure that its e-book business would be free from retail price competition, causing consumers throughout the country to pay higher prices for many e-books

Orin Snyder, Apple’s lawyer Orin Snyder said in a written statement in response to Judge Cote’s May statement that she believed the government would prove its case.:

We strongly disagree with the court’s preliminary statements about the case.

The court made clear that this was not a final ruling and that the evidence at trial will determine the verdict.

This is what a trial is for.

At the heart of the case was the launch of Apple’s iPad in 2010 and the iPad maker’s use of the so-called agency pricing model, which afforded publishers more flexibility in terms of pricing while Apple held on to its customary 30 percent cut.

“Without Apple’s orchestration of this conspiracy, it would not have succeed as it did in the spring of 2010,” Cote wrote.

Throughout the bench trial, which concluded June 20, Apple argued its innocence.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, Internet services guru Eddy Cue, and even a memo from the late Steve Jobs were part of the company’s testimony. In one statement, Jobs wrote this to HarperCollins’s James Murdoch:

Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream e-books market at $12.99 and $14.99.

Here’s Jobs touching on the subject in a brief chat with Walt Mossberg.

Tim Cook called litigation a “bizarre” case, arguing:

We’ve done nothing wrong there, and so we’re taking a very principled position. We’re not going to sign something that says we did something we didn’t do. So we’re going to fight.

Just days before the trial’s conclusion, Apple’s high-priced legal team virtually dismantled a witness from Google, making a direct eye-witness to the conspiracy admit the evidence was instead second- or third-hand.

As is customary, Apple had no immediate response to its court loss.

Meet The Artificial Muscle Man

by Illustration courtesy of Yoseph Bar-Cohen and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Logo for Bar-Cohen’s challenge to the scientific community, to create an arm using electroactive polymers that can beat a human in an arm wrestling contest.

In 1999, Yoseph Bar-Cohen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory challenged the engineering world to an arm-wrestling contest. Sort of, anyway. He doesn’t plan on participating himself, and the arm, which will face off against a human opponent of middling strength, has to be robotic. The catch is, he’s not asking for your standard metallic appendage–this robotic arm must be built with electroactive polymers (EAPs). These materials, which are often referred to as artificial muscles, bend, stretch, twist, or contract under the influence of an electrical charge, behaving much like real muscle fibers. So far, they’ve been used to make a swimming toy fish, drug release capsules and a miniature windshield wiper, but Bar-Cohen sees far more in store for EAPs, including more human-like robots.

Bar-Cohen, who doubles as an unofficial EAP spokesperson, sees their initial inclusion in the mission as a step in the right direction. “Just the fact that [NASA] suddenly treated this idea as something that has potential means they’re going to fly with it one way or another.”

Another major milestone for EAPs, he says, is the first commercial product. Eamex, a Japanese corporation, has made a small splash in the toy industry with the introduction of an EAP-propelled fish. An EAP strip is attached between the body of the fish and its tail fin; electrical signals coax the polymer strip into alternately expanding and contracting, which moves the fin back and forth, propelling the fish forward.

Other groups have grander plans for EAPs. Marc Madou, a professor at University of California at Irvine, developed what he calls “smart pills”–capsules that would be implanted into the body to release doses of medication. The capsules are about the size of a small matchstick and come equipped with a sensor and a battery, and they’re covered with a series of EAP valves. When the sensor detects a certain chemical change, it signals the battery, which emits an electrical charge. This charge activates the polymer valves, causing them to flap open and expose tiny perforations on the capsule surface. Medication stored in the capsule then seeps through the perforations until the sensor determines that a sufficient amount has been released. The sensor signals the battery again, which triggers the polymer flaps to close; the perforations are covered and the flow of medication stops. Madou, who has co-founded a company, ChipRx, to develop the device, expects it to be on the market within five to ten years.

To move toward the goal of building more lifelike robots, however, a strong, EAP-driven robotic arm is critical. That’s why Bar-Cohen is excited about a claim by California-based SRI International that, with sufficient funding, they may be ready to wrestle.

SRI’s progress on raising the necessary capital is unclear, but Bar-Cohen hopes the company will be ready in time for the next SPIE Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices conference in March 2005. And although he is anxious to finally witness the event, the spokesman in him sees it more as an opportunity to spark interest in artificial muscles than as a real test of their potential. For that reason, he wants to make sure that the robot’s competition isn’t too fierce. “We would like to go against a high school student, who will be selected not for force capability but for intelligence,” he says, adding that the student will be asked to write an essay about the experience. “Hopefully he won’t be too strong, so we’ll give the arm a chance to win.”

The Man Who Invented Wireless E

His name is Geoff Goodfellow, but few outside – or even inside – of Silicon Valley remember him as the person who invented mobile e-mail; years before Research In Motion(RIM) and NTP tussled in court over the patents to that very same idea. A case that netted the patent holding company a $612.5 million payday last month.

According to a New York Times profile, Goodfellow (now 50), who had been working as a computer operator and researcher since the early seventies, thought it would be possible to relay messages from Arpanet (the precursor to today’s Internet) to the then new alphanumeric pager back in 1982. He revealed the concept, through a note called “Electronic Mail for People on the Move,” in the Arpanet mailing list Telecom Digest that year.

Goodfellow did not patent his work, expressing a dislike for a system that restricts the sharing of ideas. As the Times piece points out, this disdain is shared by many in the technology community, such as today’s open source developers.

“You don’t patent the obvious,” Goodfellow told the Times recently. “The way you compete is to build something that is faster, better, cheaper. You don’t lock your ideas up in a patent and rest on your laurels.”

Thomas J. Campana Jr., who died in 2004, patented the wireless e-mail concept ten years after Goodfellow arrived at his mobile e-mail idea. Campana is the Chicago inventor behind NTP.

While Goodfellow may not have liked the concept of patents, he certainly wanted to see his ideas succeed in the marketplace. Hence, he commercialized wireless e-mail as RadioMail back in 1991; ultimately receiving $3 million in funding from the likes of Motorola. In 1992, he started working with future mob-e-mail giant RIM and Ericsson.

RadioMail failed, however. Goodfellow left the business in ’96 and opened a bar in Prague in 1998. He’s since moved back to the States, where he is back in the thick of things, as chairman of another start-up.

Then, five years ago, NTP sued RIM.

While other evolutionary steps came up during the trial (University of Hawaii researchers; a Motorola patent; and work by Phoenix-based TekNow), the Times reports Goodfellow’s name did not.

It turns out NTP lawyer James H. Wallace Jr. visited Goodfellow in Prague in 2002, however. Goodfellow says it was because NTP thought his work might hurt their patent claims against RIM.

NTP then proceeded to higher Goodfellow as a consultant for $19,600 in 2002. He even attended a meeting where lawyers were told not to take notes for fear of leaving a paper trail. And NTP had him sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep him quite until the dispute with RIM ended, which is why we are only hearing from him now.

The revelations about Goodfellow will only serve to complicate an already complicated outcome (if not legally, then morally) to the RIM case; at least in the minds of many.

There are analysts who are upset that a company that doesn’t make or sell anything was able to almost get a vendor shutdown who creates and successfully sells its products and services. In RIM’s case, and others like it, an essential product that is used to keep businesses and emergency workers, for example, up and running and connected.

In addition, all of the patents pertaining to case have been nixed in a preliminary mode. It is supposed that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will eventually issue final rejections of all of NTP patents related to the suit even. In the settlement, however, if all the patents are invalidated, NTP’s huge payday stands.

To RIM, it had to settle to move on finally and ease customer and Wall Street concerns, which took a turn for the worse recently anyway because of less than satisfactory fourth quarter results; despite of year-of-year growth of 39 percent.

You see, the judge in the case indicated he saw the USPTO review and the legal proceedings as two seperate issues, no matter what ultimate value NTP patents held. This put the real possibility of a RIM shutdown front and center even with NTP’s grip on its patents seemingly slowly slipping away.

Perhaps Goodfellow’s work should have been disclosed to the courts and patent examiners by both RIM and NTP?

Stanford patent law professor Mark A. Lemley thinks so. He told the Times, “I think there is a potential ethics issue. The basic key is the attorneys have the obligation to disclose everything they know about his prior artwork and make him available as a fact witness.”

For his part, Goodfellow is not upset that he never became super wealthy like so many other technology pioneers. He only wants the history to be remembered. Otherwise, he said to the Times, “I’m overjoyed that what I saw more than 20 years ago is now de rigueur.”

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The World Of Hacking Icloud

An interesting in-depth report takes a look into how hackers are using password-phishing kits and fake receipts to remove Apple’s Activation Lock protection on stolen iPhones.

Activation Lock and Find My iPhone are two crucial features that have been very effective in reducing iPhone theft by rendering iCloud-locked devices useless.

Enabling the Find My iPhone feature on your iOS device automatically turns on Activation Lock protection. Activation Lock is designed to prevent anyone else from using your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Apple Watch if it’s ever lost or stolen without knowing your iCloud password.

Activation Lock requires a user’s iCloud password even if the device has been wiped clean or restored as new. While some hacks attempt to bypass Activation Lock, they’re rather complex and require using a computer that masquerades as an Apple activation server. But smart scammers have found some pretty creative ways to disable, not bypass Activation Lock.

Motherboard has the story:

So-called ‘iCloud unlock’ involves a complex supply chain of different scams and cybercriminals. These include using fake receipts and invoices to trick Apple into believing they’re the legitimate owner of the phone, using databases that look up information on iPhones, and social engineering at Apple Stores.

There are even custom phishing kits for sale online designed to steal iCloud passwords from a phone’s original owner.

Tell me more about the phishing kits!

Whereas more generic phishing kits may be used by a hacker for a number of different purposes, perhaps for stealing banking details, email credentials or online accounts in general, these kits are specifically designed to phish iCloud accounts.

The iCloud phishing kits come with templates designed to trick a victim that their iPhone was found. These kits allow a hacker to send SMS messages that appear to come from Apple that could trick a victim into giving up their iCloud credentials.

The kits can even generate fake maps of where the victim’s phone has apparently been discovered to further entice them. The kits keep track of a hacker’s list of targets, provide notifications on successful phishes and some require next to no technical setup, according to tutorial videos on how to use them.

Once a user’s iCloud password has been stolen using the methods described above, it can be simply entered when prompted in order to remove the Activation Lock protection.

The iCloud phishing kits start at just $75.

Another method involves document forgery and a trip to an Apple Store, where a Genius can override iCloud provided you’ve tricked them into unlocking a device you don’t own.

Mick Ventocilla, owner of Lakeshore Tech Repair:

You formulate a fake receipt, take it to the Apple Store, and say ‘Hey, I forgot my Apple ID information, but here’s a receipt.’

Ventocilla says he does not try to unlock iCloud but knows many in the repair industry who do. “They remove it. That’s one of the most common ways.” For those wondering, these scammers charge around $150 for a single fake invoice, or a discount if you buy two.

Armed with a legitimate-looking Apple invoice filed with accurate information about the phone such as its IMEI number—a unique, per device identifier code—and its estimated date of purchase, scammers can ask Apple customer support to remove iCloud from the device.

You could even have Apple Support remove Activation Lock via email!

Scammers don’t always need to go into an Apple store to do this—screenshots shared in the invoice chat room show successful iCloud removals by just conversing with Apple support over email. This likely only works with phones that have not been marked as stolen, however.

And then, there’s this method:

The iPhone’s CPU can be removed from the logic board and reprogrammed to create what is essentially a ‘new’ device.

This is very labor intensive and rare.

It is generally done in Chinese refurbishing labs and involves stealing a ‘clean’ phone identification number, called an IMEI.

And here’s that method in action.

Bypassing Activation Lock by reprogramming the iPhone’s CPU.

Not all iCloud-locked iPhones are stolen though.

There are many listings on eBay, Craigslist, and wholesale sites for phones billed as ‘iCloud-locked’ or ‘for parts’ or something similar. While some of these phones are almost certainly stolen, many of them are not.

According to three professionals in the independent repair and iPhone refurbishing businesses, used iPhones—including some iCloud-locked devices—are sold in bulk at private ‘carrier auctions’ where companies like T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and cell phone insurance providers sell their excess inventory (often through third-party processing companies.)

Because some customers who return their Apple smartphone to a carrier as part of their upgrade or insurance claim don’t always remove Activation Lock from the device, carriers and insurance companies can often get stuck with iCloud-locked phones.

Motherboard could not determine whether any carriers currently have the ability to independently remove iCloud lock from iPhones, or whether Apple ever helps carriers remove iCloud at scale.

That’s where the hackers come in! “The carriers sell a ton of locked devices,” one refurbisher who buys phones from private auctions told the publication.

Once iCloud-locked devices are back on the market—whether they are legally obtained or stolen—they either need to be stripped for parts, or somehow unlocked.

Carriers certainly want and need the ability to unlock iCloud-locked iPhones but Apple, on the other hand, probably has very little incentive to encourage the secondary market for iPhones.

Be sure to read the full report at Motherboard, it’s a very interesting read.

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