A leak that started as the latest round of personal pictures hacked from celebrities' phones turned into a vast invasion of the privacy of actress Jennifer Lawrence and a handful of others — and a kind of festival on Reddit, 4chan, and other online spaces — with continued releases of pictures and video purporting to be taken from stars including Lawrence, Kate Upton, Lea Michele, and more.
On Tuesday, Apple — whose iCloud service was widely assumed to have been the source of the leaked photos and videos — said they found no systems breach related to the celebrity picture leak.
"After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet," they said in a statement. "None of the cases we have investigated have resulted from any breach in any of Apple's systems including iCloud or Find my iPhone. We are continuing to work with law enforcement to help identify the criminals involved."
Sources familiar with the investigation told the L.A. Times that the celebrities' Apple devices may have been hacked with phishing.
In a statement to CNN, the FBI has said they are "addressing the matter." "The FBI is aware of the allegations concerning computer intrusions and the unlawful release of material involving high profile individuals, and is addressing the matter," FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said Monday. "Any further comment would be inappropriate at this time."
The extent of the leak — with dozens of incredibly personal photos and a few short videos — was unanticipated even by some of the people at its center, hitting all corners of fame from athletes to American Idol contestants. One publicist told BuzzFeed Sunday she was hoping the leak would stop with one photograph of her client, only to see a half dozen more make the rounds the next night.
Tuesday afternoon, Reddit moderators published a frantic warning that all photos of gymnast McKayla Maroney will be deleted after learning she is underage in her stolen pictures, which would categorized them as child pornography. Though they weren't a part of the leak, pictures circulating of MTV star Liz Lee were also said to be taken when she was 16.
"It is considered CP (Child Pornography), and breaks reddit's site-wide rules (in addition to international law, age of consent is different than child pornography guys), and will get this subreddit banned if we were to allow them to be posted (not to mention the fact again, that it is child pornography)," mods said in the post.
The group of posters sharing, speculating on, and celebrating the invasion of the women's privacy began gathering on deep web message boards and 4chan but coalesced Monday on a subreddit called The Fappening, where hundreds of Redditors have taken to posting and commenting on all of the pictures, GIFs, video screen grabs, and intel they've collected, and tens of thousands more stood by as viewers.
Yet despite some of the pictures being authenticated, others still tried to slip in fake content, as was the case with a quickly debunked sex tape starring a Jennifer Lawrence lookalike.
Beginning Sunday night, a massive quantity of nude and risqué photos that appeared to be of huge stars such as Jennifer Lawrence, Ariana Grande, Victoria Justice, and Kate Upton leaked online, first appearing on the /b/ thread on 4chan (NSFW link).
Not all of the pictures' authenticity have been confirmed.
The /b/ thread on 4chan, also known as the random thread, is a fleeting message board where posts quickly come and go.
A spokesperson for Jennifer Lawrence released a statement to BuzzFeed confirming the pictures' authenticity.
"This is a flagrant violation of privacy," they said in an email. "The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence."
Kate Upton's attorney has confirmed the photos are of his client.
"This is obviously an outrageous violation of our client Kate Upton's privacy," said Upton's lawyer Lawrence Shire in an email to BuzzFeed. "We intend to pursue anyone disseminating or duplicating these illegally obtained images to the fullest extent possible."
A spokesman for Ariana Grande denied the photos' authenticity.
"The photos are completely fake," he said to BuzzFeed in an email.
Victoria Justice on Tuesday said her private photos were accessed, though some images purported to be her were fake. She said she would be taking legal action over the hack.
She had previously tweeted all of the images were fake.
Kirsten Dunst tweeted her response to the leak, expressing her anger through the medium of emoji.
Olympian McKayla Maroney denied the pictures were of her with a tweeted meme, though her lawyers later confirmed the pictures were of her in a cease-and-desist letter to Porn.com.
The pictures' release was originally thought to be due to an Apple iCloud leak that allowed celebrities' phones to be hacked, and were posted on 4chan in an attempt to earn bitcoins.
The hacker on 4chan is also claiming to have explicit videos of Lawrence, and claims to have over 60 nude selfies of the Oscar-winning actress.
Not all of the pictures are nude — included among them are selfies of the starlet in bathing suits.
The pictures may have even been around the web for a week or more, appearing on the deep web black market within AnonIB, an image message board that trades in pornographic pictures. Threads claiming to contain images of the nude star allegedly began circulating on AnonIB days before the leak appeared on 4chan.
The 4chan user seemingly responsible for the hack also shared two images of his desktop, with rows of photos and movies yet to be released.
A master list purporting to be of all of the celebrities who were hacked began to make the rounds online, listing the names of dozens of female stars such as Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Mary-Kate Olsen.
Reddit users on Monday claimed to have learned the identity of the leaker and circulated these images of Bryan Hamade, a 27-year-old from Georgia. Hamade vehemently denied being the leaker in an interview with BuzzFeed.
A man was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012 after hacking into Scarlett Johansson's and Mila Kunis's private online accounts and posting their photos online.
A lawyer for Mary-Kate Olsen, Martin Singer, told BuzzFeed his client had not actually been hacked, and that she "does not have any nude photos on her computer."
Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who had six nude photos leak, took to Twitter to comment on the hack.
Rachel Zarrell is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Rachel Zarrell at email@example.com.
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