updated 02:00 am EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Reports remain dubious on origin of photos, videos allegedly obtained
A plethora of new celebrity nude images have surfaced on the Internet, along with claims that the photos and videos are the result of a hack of iCloud accounts. At least one of the victims of the leak has confirmed the images, but did not confirm the leak came from iCloud and added that the images now circulating were "deleted long ago," saying it would take a lot of "creepy effort" to obtain them.
To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves.- Mary E. Winstead (@M_E_Winstead) August 31, 2014
The claim that the material comes from an iCloud hack is, at best, dubious. Material stored on Apple's servers is encrypted, and Apple has reported no breach of iCloud servers as it is required to do under California law. Further, reports that the videos were sourced from compromised Photo Streams is likewise unlikely, as videos are not part of a person's Photo Stream, and can only be stored on iCloud if someone deliberately chooses to create a Shared Stream. Additionally, devices shows in "selfie" pictures aren't always iOS devices.
It is difficult to imagine so many public figures storing potentially-embarrassing materials on cloud servers intentionally, as users must do in order to put them in a Photo Stream or Shared Stream. Other services, such as Dropbox, prod users to grant permission for all future photos to be automatically uploaded -- a setting many users may forget they have turned on -- and are stored indefinitely, even if deleted, for potential later retrieval. Another possibility is that attackers obtained the Apple ID and password of the victims through scam emails or malware, and used the information to access iCloud-based backups of celebrities' iPhones or iPads, which would include their photos.
An alternate and far more plausible theory is that the iCloud hack claim is intended to prevent reporters and other hackers from finding the real source. Mary Elizabeth Winstead said in her tweet acknowledging the leaks that her images were removed from the unnamed cloud service "long ago," which suggests that a hacker has been collecting the material for some time over a wide range of sources.
Among the other victims are many of today's top television and film stars, just over 100 in all, and notably all female, reports Variety. The iCloud hack claims appear to have originated from the 4chan website, which adds further doubt to the veracity of the reports.
Knowing those photos were deleted long ago, I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked.- Mary E. Winstead (@M_E_Winstead) August 31, 2014
Twitter accounts that post the nude images recently leaked are systematically being suspended. Some of the celebrity victims are claiming that the images are faked. Others, such as Jennifer Lawrence have seemingly confirmed the authenticity of some images by promising that the leaker would be prosecuted if discovered.
Finally, the hacker may have obtained the photos by hacking into already-compromised smartphones, such as Android devices or jailbroken iPhones. Actress Scarlett Johansson, who is another victim of this new leak of private images, had nude photos stolen off her cell phone in 2012, though the perpetrator was later traced and sentenced to 10 years in prison. "Phone hacking" has also made victims of other female celebrities, beyond the well-known UK spying scandal.