The Dark History Of Celebrity Photo Hacks

Emma Watson and Amanda Seyfried are in the news, and it’s not for their March movies Beauty and the Beast and The Last Word.
Unfortunately, Watson and Seyfried's privacy has been compromised, thanks to the work of online hackers. In a stunt coined “The Fappening 2,” the supposed sequel to August 2014’s massive photo leak, multiple nude celebrity photos are currently being disseminated across the internet.
This recent hack eerily coincides with the release of an alleged sex tape featuring actress Mischa Barton. With such egregious affronts to privacy becoming commonplace, it's clear that women celebrities are being especially targeted by hackers and trolls. But how much do you know about the history of such attacks?
From 4Chan to legal responses, here’s timeline of the forces at work behind such disturbing violations.
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Photo: Sage Ross, Wikimedia Commons
But first, some vocabulary.

Since we’ll be venturing into the depths of the web, here are some terms that will help you follow along.

4chan: 4Chan is the lawless meme-machine of the internet. In addition to pioneering memes and internet cultural trends like Rickrolling, 4chan has generated hoaxes, cyberbullying incidents, and pranks. Part of 4chan’s tendency toward deviousness stems from the fact that, unlike with Reddit, there’s no need to make a username, and no way to message others in 4chan — hence creating an atmosphere of anything-goes anonymity.

Reddit: The so-called “front page of the internet,” Reddit is essentially a giant democratic forum in which information is shared through a series of “subreddits,” pages based around specific topics. Reddit is the chatter of people talking, meeting, and sharing stuff on the internet.

Fappening: A portmanteau of the words “fap” (masturbating) and “happening.” Also known as "Celebgate."

iCloud: Apple’s online storage system, where many of the leaked photos were obtained.

Pictured: Christopher Poole, founder of 4chan
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September 2011: The first big leak.

Call it prelude to a Fappening.

In fall of 2011, hacker Christopher Chaney released photos of celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson, on the internet.

Chaney had gained access to these high-profile email accounts by using a scarily simple technique. According to a GQ article by David Kushner, Chaney guessed celebrities' email address using their first and last names. Then, Chaney hacked the passwords through answering the security question, "What is your pet's name?" and finding the answers on IMDb.

In a trial in 2012, Chaney pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and $66,179 in restitution.
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Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock
August 31, 2014: 500 private pictures are leaked.

On the day of the “Fappening,” hacker Ryan Collins released 500 suggestive photos he’d stolen from celebrities’ iCloud and Gmail accounts.

To gather the photos, Collins used a simple phishing scheme. From 2012 on, Collins sent his victims emails under the guise of Apple and Google password resets. As we know from the 2016 elections, almost anyone can be susceptible to such techniques.
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Where were the photos leaked?

After photos were posted on sites like 4chan, Reddit users created the subreddit r/TheFappening to preserve them.

On September 6, Reddit deleted the r/TheFappening subreddit, but not for any moral reason. Simply, it was too difficult for the site to comply with legal requests to take down photos, since users reposted photos so rapidly.

Defending their users' posting habits, Reddit said in an official post, “You choose what to read…we will try not to interfere — not because we don’t care, but because we care that you make your choices between right and wrong.”
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Fall 2014: Celebrities respond.

Over 100 celebrity women were hacked, including Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst, and Kaley Cuoco, who all confirmed their involvement.

Lawrence was especially vocal in expressing her disgust at the photos. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence condemned not only the hacker but anyone who viewed the leaked photos.

“Anybody who looked at those pictures, you're perpetuating a sexual offense and you should cower with shame,” she said in the interview.
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John Salangsang/BFA/REX/Shutterstock
October 14, 2014: More photos are found by the FBI.

This public hack alerted authorities to other individuals engaging in the same photo-grabbing phishing scheme.

While searching for Celebgate's perpetrator, FBI agents stormed a house in Chicago and found computers, phones, and storage drives connected to the IP address of Emilio Herrera. Herrera used this IP address to hack 572 iCloud accounts, including those of high-profile celebrities.

Declining to provide full names, the FBI identified the initials of eight celebrities whose accounts were accessed by Herrara: "A.S., C.H., H.S., J.M., O.W., A.K., E.B., and A.H." Conjectures as to the celebrities' identities followed, such as Olivia Wilde (O.W.) and Amber Heard (A.H.).
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March 15, 2016: Ryan Collins is sentenced.

36-year-old Ryan Collins of Lancaster, PA pleaded guilty to his crime, and was sentenced to prison for 18 months.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not coincidentally), this trial happened exactly a year before this most recent leak.
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January 24, 2017: Another Fappening hacker goes to prison.

Turns out Collins wasn’t the only perpetrator of Celebgate.

Chicago native Edward Majerczyk, 29, was sentenced to nine months in prison for hacking 30 celebrities' electronic accounts, though authorities say that Collins and Majerczyk actually worked independently.
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Kristina Bumphrey/Starpix/REX/Shutterstock
March 15, 2017: Could this be the Fappening 2.0?

The celebrity targeting is far from over, it seems. Exactly a year after the sentencing of hacker Ryan Collins, photos of Emma Watson and Amanda Seyfried were leaked onto 4chan, Reddit, and a website called Celeb Jihad.

While Seyfried and Watson are the first targets, it's likely they won't be the last of this hackers' photo leak.
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March 15, 2017: Seyfried and Watson take action.

A representative for Emma Watson addressed the photos to E! News, saying, the “photos [are] from a clothes fitting Emma had with a stylist a couple of years ago have been stolen. They are not nude photographs."

Seyfried's lawyers are demanding her photos be taken down from the site Celeb Jihad.

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