The man behind the 2014 celebrity photo hack is about to be a man behind bars: Ryan Collins, 36, was sentenced on Wednesday to 18 months in federal prison.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, investigators have identified over 600 victims of Collins’ hack. Though he admitted to getting the photos and other private information through an email phishing scheme, “investigators never found any evidence that he shared or uploaded the images.” Victims of Collins’ hack included a multitude of famous women, Jennifer Lawrence, Gabrielle Union, and Kate Upton among them.
Collins ran his phishing scheme from November 2012 through September 2014, scamming for usernames and passwords by sending victims emails that appeared to be from Google or Apple. Victims who responded — obviously, unbeknownst to them — granted Collins access to their email accounts and personal information. In some instances, he downloaded their backups from Apple iCloud. How vast was Collins’ reach? By prosecutors’ estimation, at least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts, “most of which belonged to female celebrities,” were hacked by Collins this way.
Lawrence called the theft and subsequent leak of the images a “sex crime” when she was interviewed by Vanity Fair for a November 2014 cover story. “It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting.” Union wrote an essay in Cosmopolitan about the horror she felt as photos she’d deleted still surfaced online:
I felt extreme anxiety, a complete loss of control. I suddenly understood that deleting things means nothing. You think it’s gone? It’s not. What is the point of even including a delete function on a phone if it doesn’t really delete? I had deleted the photos from my phone, but apparently they had remained on some server somewhere, unbeknownst to me, where hackers could find them.
Ten months after the photos were leaked, news broke that the FBI had closed in on two residences they believed to be the hub of the hack. In their report, victims (identified only by their initials) described the images that were stolen and how the crime had affected their emotional and mental health. One victim, “A.H.,” reported that photos she’d never even sent — photos that lived only on her phone—had been stolen, meaning the hack wasn’t limited to photos these women had intentionally shared. Images and videos stored on their mobile devices were also vulnerable to attack. As I wrote at the time, this revelation in particular adds to the horror: just possessing a photo of yourself makes you a target for, to use a technical term, scumbags like this.
Collins was charged with felony computer hacking back in March and agreed to take a plea deal. He faced, at most, five years in prison; prosecutors recommended the year-and-a-half sentence.