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April 21, 2019  |  

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Northford Man Pleads Guilty in 'Celebgate' iCloud Hacking

Published April 12, 2018 • Last Updated 11:45 a.m., April 12, 2018

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A 26 year-old Northford resident has pled guilty to a felony computer hacking offense due to his involvement a phishing scheme giving him illegal access to some 240 Apple iCloud accounts, many belonging to female celebrities in the entertainment industry. The hacks made headlines in 2014 as "Celebgate," after a collection of approximately 500 private pictures, many containing nudity, were posted on an image-based internet bulletin board.

On April 10 in U.S. District Court (Bridgeport), George Garofano of Northford, 26, pled guilty to one count unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information and was released on a $50,000 bond pending his sentencing date (to be scheduled). The offense carries a maximum five-year prison term, according to an April 11, 2018 press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney District of CT.

Through phishing, Garofano and others were able to gather iCloud account usernames and passwords from victims who responded to emails sent from bogus Apple security accounts. Garofano used the account information to access and steal personal information, photos and videos, some of which he traded with other individuals, according to court documents and statements made in court. Celebrity female members of Los Angeles' entertaiment industry were not the only victims; Garofano also tapped into many Connecticut residents' Apple iCloud accounts, as well.

An FBI investigation into violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act led the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California to file charges against Garafano on January 11, 2018. His case was then transferred to the District of Connecticut to be prosecuted (see the story here). At the time, Garafano was the fourth case stemming from the investigation, which had previoulsy netted two offenders from Illinois and one from Pennsylvania.

Read the full April 11, 2018 U.S. Dept. of Justice/U.S. States Attorney District of CT press release here on Garofano's guilty plea here:

NORTH BRANFORD MAN ADMITS TO HACKING APPLE ICLOUD ACCOUNTS OF MORE THAN 200 PEOPLE, INCLUDING CELEBRITIES

April 11, 2018: John H. Durham, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that George Garofano 26, of North Branford, waived his right to be indicted and pleaded guilty yesterday before U.S. District Judge Victor A. Bolden in Bridgeport to a computer hacking offense related to a phishing scheme that gave him illegal access to more than 200 Apple iCloud accounts, many of which belonged to members of the entertainment industry.

This matter stems from an investigation conducted by the FBI in Los Angeles into the leaks of photographs of numerous female celebrities in September 2014. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, which is leading the prosecution, filed charges against Garofano on January 11, 2018. The parties agreed to transfer the case to the District of Connecticut for further prosecution.

According to court documents and statements made in court, from April 2013 through October 2014, Garofano engaged in a phishing scheme to obtain usernames and passwords for iCloud accounts. Garofano admitted that he sent e-mails to victims that appeared to be from security accounts of Apple and encouraged the victims to send him their usernames and passwords, or to enter them on a third-party website, where he would later retrieve them Garofano used the usernames and passwords to access his victims' iCloud accounts, which allowed him to steal personal information, including sensitive and private photographs and videos. In some instances, Garofano traded the usernames and passwords, as well as the materials he stole from the victims, with other individuals.

By illegally accessing the iCloud accounts, Garofano gained access to approximately 240 accounts. Although many of Garofano victims were members of the entertainment industry in California, many non-celebrities who live in Connecticut were also victimized.

Garofano pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.  A sentencing date is not scheduled. Garofano is released on a $50,000 bond.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Neeraj Patel of the District of Connecticut, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan White of the Central District of California.

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