RICHMOND, Va. – A Richmond man was sentenced today to almost three years in prison for charges of unauthorized access to a protected computer and aggravated identity theft.
According to court documents, Christopher Brannan, 31, intentionally accessed without authorization Internet and email accounts, including Apple iCloud, Yahoo!, and Facebook accounts, and obtained complete iCloud backups, photographs, and other private information belonging to more than 200 victims, including both celebrities and non-celebrities. Brannan hacked email accounts by answering security questions that he could easily research by reviewing victims’ Facebook accounts.
Brannan also gained access to victims’ accounts by using phishing email accounts designed to look like legitimate security accounts from Apple. Because of the victims’ belief that the email had come from Apple, the victims would provide their usernames and passwords. Brannan would then access the victims’ email accounts, and search for personal information such as sensitive and private photographs and videos, including nude photographs. Authorities identified Brannan as a suspect during a California-based FBI investigation into hacked iCloud accounts commonly known as “Celebgate.”
As part of Brannan’s plea agreement, the United States made a non-binding recommendation to the Court that he be sentenced to 34 months in prison. At sentencing, Senior U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson accepted the government’s recommendation and imposed the agreed-upon sentence.