This week in creepy news: a Southern California man has admitted to conspiring with others to hack into hundreds of Apple iCloud accounts — mostly to steal nude photographs of young women.
Hao Kuo Chi, 40, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and computer fraud in U.S. District Court in Florida on Friday, the Justice Department recently announced. Chi was arrested earlier this year after a police raid on his LA County home revealed tens of thousands of stolen photos and videos.
Authorities say that, since at least 2014, Chi was part of what was basically a nudes peddling ring. He and others “conspired to hack into the Apple iCloud accounts of hundreds of individuals across the country in search of nude photos and videos.” After confiscating the intimate material, Chi and others would sell, trade, or keep the naked photos and videos for himself, an associated plea agreement shows.
Chi advertised his nude-stealing services online, portraying himself as a kind of “hacker-for-hire” and using the moniker “icloudripper4you.” To hide their illegal activities, Chi and other co-conspirators used a foreign-based encrypted email service, court documents claim. Nude videos or images recovered by the criminals were dubbed “wins.”
Chi’s method of compromising accounts involved a fairly rudimentary phishing scheme, in which he would pretend to be a member of Apple support staff. In this way, he would trick victims into “providing him with their Apple IDs and passwords,” after which he would steal their personal photos or videos. During their investigation, police discovered two Gmail accounts tied to Chi that contained over half a million emails. Some 4,700 of those emails are said to have contained iCloud account credentials that victims had provided to him, the Los Angeles Times previously reported.
A search warrant executed at Chi’s residence in La Puente, Calif., in May, revealed a terabyte of digital storage kept for the purposes of “content stolen from victim iCloud accounts,” the search warrant says. It was previously reported that Chi was in possession of approximately 620,000 photos and videos stolen from hundreds of private accounts.
At the time of the raid, Chia also admitted to police that he had hacked the accounts of at least 200 people at the request of other people online. Even with his plea agreement, Chi now faces up to twenty years in prison.