My iCloud Was Hacked & I’m Being Harassed By People I’ve Never Met

Photographed by Anna Jay
In 2016, 27-year-old former Miss Norway contestant and now London-based personal trainer Maiken Brustad did something that many of us have done at one point or another: she took some naked images to send to her boyfriend. As with everything we do on our phones, these images were stored automatically in her iCloud. 
Since she took those intimately personal images, Maiken has been living day in, day out with the threat that someone – a man she has never met – will send them to her employers, gyms all over London. On top of that, all the material – plus some deepfake doctored images which show her head on the body of other people – has now been widely disseminated across the internet. 
It was in 2017 that she realised this had happened to her. "At first I had no idea what was going on," Maiken explains today as she faces yet another batch of threatening emails from her abuser. "I didn’t know I had been hacked until a friend contacted me on Facebook to tell me that he had seen images of me on a forum. They sent me a link and I clicked. I knew right away that the images were of me – that they were mine. And instantly my eyes darted right to the comments, to the really nasty things people were saying about me."
Maiken may not be internationally famous but her experience has much in common with the photo leaks experienced by celebrities. The highest profile incidence of iCloud hacking is August 2014’s celebrity nude photo leak, The Fappening – also known as "Celebgate" – which saw a hacker called Ryan Collins steal photos of Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Kate Upton, Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne, Vanessa Hudgens, Kaley Cuoco, Avril Lavigne, Mary-Kate Olsen and Amber Heard (to name just a few) and disseminate them across the internet, primarily on Reddit and 4Chan

I didn't know I had been hacked until a friend contacted me on Facebook to tell me that he had seen images of me on a forum.

The word 'fappening' is a portmanteau of the words 'fap' (masturbate) and 'happening'. The 2014 Fappening was followed in 2018 by a similar incident which has since become known as The Fappening 2, in which Emma Watson and Amanda Seyfried were among the women celebrities whose privacy was compromised. 
The abuse which Maiken, who does not have a team of people to monitor her emails and DMs, has suffered is twofold. Images of her and images purporting to be her now appear on various pornographic websites – some of which even boast that they obtained the images via hacking – and she is being harassed for the umpteenth time by someone who has tracked her down via social media and is holding the material over her as though she has done something to be ashamed of, threatening to send it to her employer and colleagues. In one email an abuser even says: "Conservative England is not going to take [these images of you] well." 
The emails, Maiken notes, are always sent from an anonymous ProtonMail account, which is an end-to-end encrypted email service. When it first happened, "I was just broken," she reflects. "I couldn’t work at that time because all I could think about was this situation, I was not myself. I look back and I don’t recognise myself." The 27-year-old is now engaged and grateful for the unerring love and support of her fiancé who, she says, "loves her no matter what" but the ordeal she has been through has taken a toll. 
Today, however, she is resolute. In 2019, a man was sentenced to 90 days in prison for harassing her. She continues to report the abuse she receives each time it occurs but says she is receiving "little help" from the British police. "Whoever these hackers are, whoever the people who see images of me and email me are, I know they just want to feel that they have some power over me when, in fact, they don't," she adds. 
Sadly, Maiken is not alone and the recourse for anyone who finds themselves in her situation is limited. Online stalking, harassment and bullying are what’s known as "cyber-enabled" crimes in this country but the threat of sharing intimate images is not a criminal offence in and of itself. Refuge – a British charity which supports women who experience domestic abuse – is currently running a campaign called The Naked Threat which calls on the government to change this through the Domestic Abuse Bill

It is vital that women experiencing image-based abuse feel empowered to report it to the police in the knowledge that they will be believed and their experiences will be taken seriously.

Lisa King, refuge
Lisa King, Refuge's director of communications and external relations, told Refinery29: "Sharing intimate images without consent is a far-reaching crime that happens to women across society. A perpetrator sharing images of a woman they know personally could include images obtained nonconsensually, or images that a woman shared with the perpetrator in the belief they would be kept private. Images that were shared consensually, as part of an intimate relationship, should never be used to abuse a woman and women should not be blamed or made to feel guilty or ashamed if this happens to them, whether the images were stolen, coerced, or sent willingly."
Refuge also told Refinery29 that its frontline staff report that the women contacting them are "experiencing multiple forms of image-based abuse on an ever-increasing basis". Refuge found last year that 4.4 million people had experienced these threats in England and Wales alone. Eighty-three percent of women who experienced these threats said it impacted their mental health and wellbeing, with more than one in 10 feeling suicidal because of the threat, and one in seven felt more at risk of physical violence. Revenge porn and threats to share are being recorded at a higher rate by other services in the sector, too; in September last year, the Revenge Porn Helpline reported its busiest year on record. 
Maiken has over 19,000 followers on her personal Instagram account and more than 4,000 on her work account. While she needs this social media visibility for her work as a personal trainer, it does also mean that she is easily traceable for anyone who wants to find her after watching pornographic content containing her image. Part of the problem is that she is engaged in a giant game of whack-a-mole. "I’ve emailed some of the websites and asked them to remove the images because they’re posted without my consent but I never hear back," she explains, her voice belying both determination and frustration. "And the police recently closed a case about someone emailing me about the images and threatening to release them to my employers because they just didn’t have enough to go on."
"I am so done with this now," Maiken says, "but it keeps coming back. I have been to therapy. I feel strong mentally, I have given myself closure on it but I just have to accept that the photos will probably be out there forever. I know I am more than these images but when I get DMs and threatening emails, of course it’s scary. I want to speak out because I don’t think there is enough support out there and I don’t want any young woman to ever be shamed because she has taken private pictures of herself."
Refuge’s Lisa King concluded: "It is vital that women experiencing image-based abuse feel empowered to report it to the police in the knowledge that they will be believed and their experiences will be taken seriously. There needs to be better training within the police to improve their responses to image-based abuse, and the government must urgently amend the Domestic Abuse Bill, currently making its way through the House of Lords, to make threats to share intimate images a criminal offence. Only then will the gaps in law and policing begin to close and allow women better access to the protection they so desperately need."
Refinery29 also contacted the National Crime Agency (NCA) for comment. 
If you are affected by this issue, support is available 24/7 from Refuge's National Domestic Abuse Helpline either by phone on 0808 2000 247 or online at where there is a live chat service available between 3pm and 6pm, Monday to Friday. 
The Revenge Porn Helpline is also available Monday to Friday to support any adult in the UK who has had their intimate images shared without their consent, or who is being threatened with the prospect of their images being shared.

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