A few days ago, there it was. Candid nudeshots of lots of celebrities. It was quickly called ‘the fappening’, dubbed after a pun between ‘fapping’ (masturbating) and ‘the happening’ (a buzzword used by lots of self-important hipsters). Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, some Disney stars I don’t know; all had their private pictures leak from ‘iCloud’, Apple’s cloud-storing program. Mainstream media jumped on this opportunity to blast sites like 4chan and Reddit for spreading these images, often calling those who did ‘vile, creepy 14-year olds’. Though that may be true, there are a lot of misunderstandings in the mainstream media. This article aims to right some of those wrongs.
There never was ‘a’ hacker. There never was ‘a’ leak. There wasn’t even much of a ‘hack’ either. The hack that did take place was probably already over two years ago, as detailed by WIRED back when the iCloud was already reported to have vulnerabilities. This also explains why for instance Mary Elizabeth Winstead has stated that her pictures were deleted many years ago. This isn’t a fresh hack.
“But how do you know this?” I hear you thinking. Well, in order for that to be explained, you need to know a bit more about internet culture. For my thesis on Anonymous, I learned a lot about the ‘Deep Web’. Let us take the metaphor of the iceberg. What you see is about 20% of its total mass, while 80% lurks underwater. The deep web is the internet’s 80%. Though it doesn’t compare at all to 80% of the total internet (more like about 5%), the metaphor still stands. There are certain pages on the internet you can only reach using browsers like TOR, a browser that doesn’t record any traffic like normal browsers do with cookies. Trying to reach a deep web page with google chrome would just result in a ‘404 page not found’ message.
TOR has since been compromised due to the FBI taking control over the servers about a year ago, but due to the nature of the browser, this probably didn’t last long after it was publicized. There were a few setbacks to the deep net, but it still remains the number one spot for ordering illegal drugs, hiring hitmen, and yes, buying and selling nudes of celebrities. Most of this is financed with Bitcoins, on marketplaces like Silk Road. People post samples of found footage from celebrities, and offer to sell the entire sets. Or, they trade their pictures to other tech savvy individuals to enlarge their own collection. These pictures have probably been in circulation for years now, making it a ticking time bomb waiting to explode sooner or later.
Why did it get leaked now? With all good inside jokes, there’s always someone who explains it to the outside world. Someone who takes pride in being the one to explain it to the masses. In this case, a guy on the deep web bought into the ring. Instead of keeping the ring a secret, he thought of a way to earn money. He asked for donations to make the rest of the pictures available. He advertised his leak on 4chan, but didn’t get a lot of money. Soon, the pictures spread to Reddit, where a subreddit called ‘The Fappening’ was created to gather all leaked pictures from 4chan. Torrents were created on ThePirateBay with collections totalling about 500MB of pictures, making it easier to spread, download and save the nearly 400 pictures in one go. Meanwhile, image-hosting services like imgur where working their ass off trying to delete the pictures from their servers, resulting in links going dead within the hour.
‘The Fappening’ was originally going to be a multi-day event. However, since the initial day, there haven’t been any links that sparked lots of controversy. Of the about 90 celebrities the original poster talked about, only 30 have had their pictures leaked. Why? Because the guy leaking the pictures to the internet didn’t get enough donations. So, instead of ruining any future profits from selling the alleged videos of Jennifer Lawrence, he just stopped leaking. Money makes the world go round, they say. Money also makes nude shots of celebrities go around the internet. But when the money doesn’t come, so don’t millions of horny teenagers come to video’s of said celebrities.
I hope I educated you a bit about the internet in general, and ‘the Fappening’ especially. Moral of the story is, don’t take any shots of yourself nude. And certainly, certainly don’t upload them on any online service – be it protected with a password or not. This post might seem biased against these celebrities, but the fact of the matter is, there will always be people trying to circumvent certain boundaries to get what they want. This will happen both in the real world and in the online world. It is quite naive to think that, especially when you’re a celebrity, you’re safe on the web by just a single-step authentication.