On August 31, 2014, a collection of almost 500 private pictures of various celebrities, mostly women, and with many containing nudity, were posted on the imageboard 4chan, and later disseminated by other users on websites and social networks such as Imgur and Reddit. The images were initially believed to have been obtained via a breach of Apple’s cloud services suite iCloud,but it later turned out that the hackers could have taken advantage of a security issue in the iCloud API which allowed them to make unlimited attempts at guessing victims’ passwords.However access was later revealed to have been gained via targeted phishing attacks.
The event, which media outlets and Internet users referred to under names such as “The Fappening” (a portmanteau of the words “fap”—a slang term for masturbation—and the film The Happening) and “Celebgate”, was met with a varied reaction from the media and fellow celebrities. Critics felt that the distribution of the images was a major invasion of privacy for their subjects, while some of the allegedly depicted subjects questioned their authenticity. The leak also prompted increased concern from analysts surrounding the privacy and security of cloud computing services such as iCloud—with a particular emphasis on their use to store sensitive, private information.
Dozens of personal and intimate photos of Anne Hathaway, Miley Cyrus, Kristen Stewart, Katharine McPhee, golfer Tiger Woods and his ex Lindsey Vonn have reportedly been surfaced on the Internet, and have widely been shared on Reddit, Tumblr and Twitter.
The incident comes a few months after “The Fappening 2.0” surfaced, leaking alleged pictures of many female celebrities, including Emma Watson and Amanda Seyfried on Reddit and 4chan.
The latest release of celebs private photos seems to have come after an unidentified hacker or group of hackers has gained access to celebs’ Apple iCloud accounts and stolen private iPhone photos and videos.
A similar trick was used in the 2014 Fappening incident, where anonymous hackers flooded the Internet with private photographs of major celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian, Kate Upton and Kirsten Dunst.
Apple responded to the 2014 hack by pledging to bolster iCloud security.
Miley Cyrus, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Demi Lovato, Lucy Hale, Kate Hudson, Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, Suki Waterhouse and Alison Brie, and much more are just the latest victims adds to the long list of affected celebrities.
The compromised images were posted on various website, and the celebrities’ lawyers are reported to be actively working to get those pictures taken off, but they are now being copied and shared across the internet.
The 2014 Fappening hackers used phishing to trick celebrities into entering their iCloud account credentials into bogus ‘security’ websites and then accessed private photographs and videos of more than 300 victims.
Miley Cyrus has been targeted as a part of a different photo leak as well alongside Victoria’s Secret angel Stella Maxwell, currently dating Kristen Stewart. Also, pictures of more stars reached the web, this time with Nicole Scherzinger and Dakota Johnson being seen in X-rated photos.
According to a report from British media that 2 different top TV stars in the United Kingdom have appeared in photos published on X-rated websites, though their names were not disclosed.
In majority of the cases, the aforementioned celebrities threatened with legal action whoever posts the pictures and helps spread them online, but it seems that removing the content is impossible, as the photos are still available at the time of publishing this article.
Writer Van Badham condemned the photo leaks and the people who shared the photos. Actress Lena Dunham pleaded on Twitter for people not to view the pictures, saying doing so “violat[es] these women over and over again. It’s not okay.” Actress Emma Watson condemned not only the release of the photos, but also “the accompanying comments [on social media] that show such a lack of empathy.”
Actors Seth Rogen and Lucas Neff also spoke out against the hackers and people who posted the pictures. Justin Verlander, then a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, told the media prior to a game against the Cleveland Indians that he keeps his private life private and would rather focus on the Tigers’ race with the Kansas City Royals for the AL Central title than be a distraction to his teammates.Security analysts have stated that the breach could have been prevented through the use of two-factor authentication, while a Forbes writer recommended turning off the iCloud “Photo Stream” feature (which uploads photos taken with an iOS device to iCloud servers automatically) entirely.
The incident has been given many names, including “The Fappening” (a portmanteau of “The Happening” and “fap”, an internet slang term for male masturbation) and “Celebgate” (a reference to the Watergate scandal).The term “The Fappening” has received criticism from journalists like Radhika Sanghani of The Daily Telegraph and Toyin Owoseje of The International Business Times, who said that the term not only trivialized the leak, but also, according to Sanghani, “[made] light of a very severe situation”; both articles used the term extensively to describe the event, including in the headlines.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that in response to the leaks, the company planned to take additional steps to protect the privacy and security of iCloud users in the future. Notifications will be provided whenever data is restored to a device via iCloud and after logging into iCloud via a web browser, in addition to existing notifications when a user’s iCloud password is changed. Additionally, Apple will broaden and encourage the use of two-factor authentication in future versions of its software and operating systems, such as the then-upcoming IOS 8. In conclusion, he emphasized that “we want to do everything we can do to protect our customers, because we are as outraged if not more so than they are.”
Jennifer Lawrence contacted authorities and her publicist has stated that the authorities will prosecute anyone who posts leaked images of her. Forbes columnist Joseph Steinberg questioned whether the reactions by law enforcement and technology providers indicated that celebrities were being treated differently from ordinary Americans, which, in the case of law enforcement, may be illegal.
On October 1, 2014, Google was threatened with a lawsuit by lawyer Martin Singer for $100 million on behalf of unnamed victims of the leaks, alleging that Google had refused to respond to requests for the images to be removed from its platforms (including Blogger and YouTube), “[failing] to act expeditiously, and responsibly to remove the images”, and “knowingly accommodating, facilitating, and perpetuating the unlawful conduct”.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence called the leak a “sex crime” and a “sexual violation” and added, “anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offense and you should cower with shame”.This view was contrasted by another victim of the hack, Emily Ratajkowski, who told GQ, “A lot of people who were victims of [the hack] said anyone who looks at these pictures should feel guilty, but I just don’t think that’s fair”, and “I’m not sure that anyone who Googles it is necessarily a criminal. I think the people who stole the photos are”.
Investigation till date:
The FBI said that it was “aware of the allegations concerning computer intrusions and the unlawful release of material involving high profile individuals, and is addressing the matter.”Similarly, Apple stated that it had been investigating whether a security breach of the iCloud service was responsible for the leaked photographs, as per the company’s commitment to user privacy. On September 2, 2014, Apple reported that the leaked images were the result of compromised accounts, using “a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet”.
In October 2014, FBI searched a house in Chicago and seized several computers, cell phones and storage drives after tracking the source of a hacking attack to an IP address linked to an individual named Emilio Herrera. A related search warrant application mentioned eight victims with initials A.S., C.H., H.S., J.M., O.W., A.K., E.B., and A.H., what supposedly points to stolen photos of Abigail Spencer, Christina Hendricks, Hope Solo, Jennette McCurdy, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Emily Browning, and Amber Heard. According to law enforcement officials, Herrera is just one of several people under investigation and the FBI has carried out various searches across the country.
In March 2016, 36-year-old Ryan Collins of Lancaster, Pennsylvania agreed to plead guilty to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information resulting in a 18-month sentence.While no victims were named in the court documents, numerous media outlets connected Collins’ case to The Fappening. During the investigation, it was found that Collins phished by sending e-mails to the victims that looked like they came from Apple or Google, warning the victims that their accounts might be compromised and asking for their account details. The victims would enter their passwords, and Collins gained access to their accounts, downloading e-mails and iCloud backups.In October 2016, Collins was sentenced to 18 months in prison. In August 2016, 28-year-old Edward Majerczyk of Chicago, Illinois agreed to plead guilty to a similar phishing scheme, although authorities believe he worked independently of Collins and he was not accused of selling the images or posting them online. On January 24, 2017, Majerczyk was sentenced to nine months in prison and was ordered to pay $5,700 in restitution to cover the counseling services of one unnamed celebrity victim.