Man charged with hacking into celebrities’ emails, stealing scripts, and nude photos
According to court papers filed in federal court in Manhattan, the U.S. Homeland Security agents have arrested a Bahamian man on federal charges of hacking into the email accounts of numerous individuals belonging to the entertainment, sports, and media industries. He hacked the email accounts to steal unreleased movies, TV scripts and private sex tapes and to sell some of the scripts.
Alonzo Knowles, 23, known online under the moniker of Jeff Moxey, was arrested in Manhattan on Monday after meeting with an undercover law enforcement agent to whom he boasted of having records of at least 130 accounts of stars and big shots in entertainment, sports and media. At the time of his arrest, Knowles was allegedly attempting to sell the stolen material to the undercover agent, the court papers say.
Though none of the victims were identified, prosecutor Kristy Greenberg told a judge that several agents had spoken to were “quite traumatized” by the theft of their personal information.
“This case has all of the elements of the kind of blockbuster script the defendant, Alonzo Knowles, is alleged to have stolen,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “Unfortunately, these circumstances are all too real.”
The hacker did not directly hack the celebrities, but targeted their friends on social media, with simple social engineering or spear phishing tricks. Once he infected those computers with malware or had tricked their owners into revealing their passwords, he would search their PC or inbox for details about their celebrity friend. Using this data, he would later try the same tactics on the celebrity, but with emails coming from their friend’s email address.
This simple trick allowed the hacker to gain access to various celebrity social media accounts, inboxes, and computers, where he later found movie or TV show scripts, nude pictures, sexually explicit personal videos, unreleased movie materials, and personal identification information (PII).
Knowles got caught, after trying to sell some of this data to a New York radio host. This included scripts for the first six episodes of an upcoming season of a very popular television series.
The case comes at a time when security is a sensitive subject in Hollywood. Last year, a group calling themselves as the Guardians of Peace broke into Sony Pictures Entertainment computers and released thousands of emails, documents, Social Security numbers and other personal information in an attempt to stop the release of the North Korean-focused comedy “The Interview.”
Also last year, hackers broke into female celebrities’ personal Apple accounts, stole nude photos and posted them on the web. Jennifer Lawrence and Mary Elizabeth Winstead have said they were victims of the hack attack.
Authorities say the investigation began with a tip from “a popular radio host” who received an unsolicited offer in early December from someone selling scripts for the first six episodes of the next season of a popular TV drama. Knowles had offered to sell copies of 15 scripts to an undercover agent for $80,000. The radio host contacted the show’s executive producer, who then called Department of Homeland Security investigators.
Authorities followed that offer to Knowles, of Freeport, Bahamas, who called himself “Jeff Moxey” and claimed to have “exclusive content” worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Homeland Security Special Agent Michael McDonald said in a complaint.
Within days, Knowles via video call was showing an undercover agent scripts for an unreleased comedy movie, a new TV show, and other materials, some marked as having been distributed to actors, the complaint said. Knowles entered into celebrities’ accounts by sending either a computer virus or a false warning that the person’s account had been hacked. He then utilized the information he got back to change the accounts’ email settings so that he could maintain ongoing access, it said.
According to the complaint, in a recorded conversation, Knowles told the undercover agent that “The possibilities are definitely unlimited.”
On December 12, Knowles sent the undercover agent a sexually explicit image and a video from the email account of a second radio host that the host had received from another victim described as a “television host and columnist,” the complaint said. It says he claimed, “This is just an example of things I can get.”
Knowles is charged with copyright infringement and identity theft and will appear in federal court in Manhattan later today.
Additional details of the charges and investigation are expected to be released by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan at a later time.