Celebrity photo hacker: 'I didn't do this by myself'

Actress Jennifer Lawrence was a victim of privacy theft when hackers leaked nude photos of her online. Photo / Thinkstock
Actress Jennifer Lawrence was a victim of privacy theft when hackers leaked nude photos of her online. Photo / Thinkstock

The chief hacker who organized the theft of private nude pictures of actresses including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton has gone on the run.

The anonymous individual, who sparked the scandal after dumping dozens of naked photographs of female celebrities onto the 4chan online forum, took to the "deep web" where the images are thought to have first been posted a week ago to say he had to "move location".

In an apparent attempt to evade the authorities, he said he would be relocating as he thanked his "supporters" who apparently shared the images on AnonIB before they were reposted on forum 4chan.

Jennifer Lawrence has reported the stolen image to the authorities, and the FBI is investigating amid an international hunt for the hacker.

The hacker, who is referred to by other posters as the "original guy", also appeared to confirm that the hacking was a conspiracy involving more than just one individual and "the result of several months of long and hard work".

In the post thread written just after midnight on Monday, the anonymous hacker said that he will be moving to another location before seeming to threaten to upload more compromising images - asking for bitcoin (BTC) donations from those willing to pay to see.

"Guys, just to let you know I didn't do this by myself," wrote the deviant hacker.

"There are several other people who were in on it and I needed to count on to make this happened (sic).

"This is the result of several months of long and hard work by all involved. We appreciate your donations and applaud your excitement.

"I will soon be moving to another location from which I will continue to post."

And in a statement issued on Monday afternoon, the FBI confirmed that it had begun an investigation.

"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. Any further comment would be inappropriate at this time."

This comes as it was revealed the hacked nude photographs leaked online of actresses including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton have been traded on the Internet for at least a week and could be just the tip of the iceberg of stolen celebrity pictures.

Exchanged on the deep web black market and deviant message boards specializing in stolen 'revenge porn' photography, the compromising pictures have been used as a currency of sorts among perverted members of these forums.

Indeed, in the aftermath of Sunday's mass dumping of naked pictures, these boards have descended into anarchy and infighting, with a civil war erupting between those who leaked the pictures and those furious their sordid, secret game has been thrown into the public eye.

Worryingly for the general public is how simple the posters make their privacy theft seem - and raises the frightening prospect that Apple's iCloud used by millions is not safe for anyone to store sensitive information on.

In the days before the stolen images were uploaded en masse to the 4chan anonymous image-sharing forum on Sunday, the Internet had been awash with claims by web-perverts that they were trading in the embarrassing photographs.

Among these boasts were that the hackers had accumulated pictures of at least 100 celebrities - and were biding their time before releasing them all online.

However, these outrageous claims seemed to originate not on 4chan, but the pornographic image board, AnonIB, which focuses usually on pornographic photographs of non-celebrity women.

During the last week, threads dedicated to Jennifer Lawrence that claimed to contain genuine images of the naked actress began to flood AnonIB - now proved to be real following the actresses confirmation that the pictures are indeed her.

According to those with knowledge of the threads on AnonIB and 4chan, the hacking of the nude pictures from Apple's iCloud was not a sudden smash and grab raid on the privacy of the women, rather collected over time until the list of their alleged victims stood at 101 in total.

It also seems that the hacking may not even be down to one individual, but may in fact be the work of a number of people.

The first sign that pictures of Jennifer Lawrence might be online was a post from AnonIB user on Tuesday 26 August that claimed a 'major win' for hackers looking for nude pictures of the Oscar winner.

However, many other posters on the anonymous board were skeptical that the pictures were of Lawrence, 24, until a slew of claims made by different posters all popped up on the board with the same revealing pictures.

One in particular bragged that he was "ripping iclouds" - which is allegedly how the pictures were stolen.

However, in the posts the individual claims that the pictures have been online for some time - possibly weeks - which adds credence to the claims they possess the nude images of dozens more celebrities.

One person named online as a hacker by reddit users, has already come forward to deny any allegations against him.

Bryan Hamade told MailOnline that he was categorically not behind any hacking of celebrities private pictures and has not released any to the public.

He claims that he was identified after he lied to a reddit user to try and get bitcoins from them with a photoshopped picture of a celebrity.

This lie caused suspicion to fall on him and a huge reddit investigation reminiscent of their incorrect efforts to name the Boston bombers was launched.

"I am not the original leaker," said Bryan to MailOnline.

"I only reposted one thing that was posted elsewhere and stupidly had my network folders visible."

In an effort to cast the blame elsewhere, Bryan said that he believes the images released on 4chan may not have been leaked by the person or persons who stole them.

"The real guy is on 4chan posting intermittently," said Bryan.

"He's most likely the one behind it but it does seem the photos passed around to multiple people before being leaked, so it may just be someone who has them and didn't hack to get them.

"I'd never in a million years know how to hack into any of the accounts listed.

"4chan just attacked me because they like to attack anyone in situations such as this."

This comes as it was claimed a flaw in the 'Find My iPhone' function of Apple's iCloud service may have helped a hacker to steal nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and "100 other celebrities", it today emerged.

The hacker claims he or she broke into stars' iCloud accounts, including those of the Hunger Games actress, Kate Upton and Rihanna, before publishing them on 4chan, the image-sharing forum.

A list of the alleged victims of the hack - 101 in total - has also been posted online; most of whom have not seen any photographs leaked by the hacker.

A spokesman for Oscar winner Lawrence confirmed to MailOnline the photos of her are genuine.

"This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence," the emailed statement read.

Following the publication of the images of Sunday night, experts have voiced their concerns over how the hacker managed to access them. Now, reports suggest that a specific flaw in the 'Find My iPhone' service may have been to blame.

Despite the story breaking last night, Apple is still yet to confirm or deny whether its software was the target of the hacking.

A variety of theories - including a flaw in the 'Find My iPhone' service as well as 'social engineering' techniques - have begun to circulate in a bid to explain what might be to blame for the hack.

The phone photos, reportedly obtained through the widely-used online service, were published on 4chan, the anonymous image-sharing forum.

A list of the alleged victims - 101 in total - posted by the hacker has also appeared.

Apple has not commented on the leak, but has previously stressed how important its customers' privacy is.

The firm's iCloud service secures data by encrypting it when it is sent over the web, storing it in an encrypted format when kept on server, and using secure tokens for authentication.

This means that data is protected from hackers while it is being sent to devices and stored online.

This suggests the hackers were able to obtain the login credentials of the accounts, and pretend to be the user, in order to bypass this encryption.

Earlier today The Next Web spotted code on software development site Github, that would have allowed malicious users to use brute force to gain an account's password on Apple iCloud, and in particular its Find my iPhone service.

Brute force, also known as 'brute force cracking', is a trial-and-error method used to get plain-text passwords from encrypted data.

Just as a criminal might break into, or 'crack' a safe by trying many possible combinations, a brute-force cracking attempt goes through all possible combinations of characters in sequence.

In a six-letter attack, the hacker will start at 'a' and end at '//////'

Find My iPhone helps users locate and protect their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac - if it's ever lost or stolen.

The hackers may have also used 'social engineering' techniques to obtain Apple IDs and passwords based on other information they could find.

This includes email address, a mother's maiden name, a date of birth, and more - all of which is easier to find out about celebrities than the everyday user.

In May, iPhone and iPad users were being targeted by hackers who were remotely locking their devices and demanding ransom money in return.

Ransomware attacks, in which criminals remotely gain access to a device and hold it hostage, aren't new, but they have traditionally targeted laptops and PCs.

In this latest mobile attack, the hackers were controlling gadgets by breaking into customers' iCloud accounts and remotely locking the devices using the Find My iPhone feature.

Stefano Ortolani, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab told MailOnline: "The leak is still under scrutiny, so it is not clear at this stage if cloud services are to blame, or if those are just files somehow leaked from a private collection.

"The security of a cloud service depends on the provider.

"However, it's important to consider that as soon as you hand over any data, including photos, to a third-party service, you need to be aware that you automatically lose some control of it. This is also the case for when you upload something online.

"In order to make your private data more secure, you should cherry-pick the data you store in the cloud and know when the data is set to automatically leave your device."

For example, iCloud's My Photo Stream feature uploads new photos to the cloud as soon as the device is connected to Wi-Fi; this is to keep photos synchronised across all your devices.

Disabling this option prevents photos automatically being uploaded.

Actress Mary E Winstead confirmed photos on 4Chan were hers, but stressed that she had deleted them 'long ago.'

But, when photos that have been uploaded to iCloud are deleted from a phone, they are not necessarily deleted from the online storage.

Apart from iCloud, the photos also remain on the user's Photo Stream, which would also be available on other devices with which the photos streams were share, such as an iPad or iPod touch, or devices synced with the same iCloud account.

If the leak didn't come from compromised iCloud accounts, they may have originated from other cloud services such as Google Drive, Dropbox or similar.

In June, Google announced its Drive service had a flaw that meant private information was at risk from hackers.

The security flaw occurred when a file was uploaded to Google Drive, was stored in its original format and contained links to third-party websites.

In this instance, if a user clicked on the embedded link, the administrator of that site could potentially obtain information about the URL of the original document - exposing it to hackers.

Google patched the flaw in June, but the large number of victims in the 4chan leak also suggests that the hack may have begun months ago - at the time of this flaw.

Similarly, in May, a flaw was found in Dropbox accounts that could have given unauthorised access to accounts.

The publication of the photographs calls into question the safety of uploading personal data to iCloud, which was launched by Apple in October 2011.

Photo leak: The theories

Find My iPhone flaw
Reports suggest a specific flaw in the 'Find My iPhone' service may have been to blame.

Code was spotted on software development site Github, that would have allowed malicious users to use 'brute force' to gain an account's password on Apple iCloud, and in particular its Find my iPhone service.

Social engineering
The hackers may have also used 'social engineering' techniques to obtain Apple IDs and passwords based on other information.

This includes email address, a mother's maiden name, a date of birth, and more - all of which is easier to find out about celebrities than the everyday user.

If a celebrity uses the same password across accounts, this would be then make it relatively easy for someone to hack if they had the right information.

Google Drive hack
In June, Google announced its Drive service had a flaw that meant private information was at risk from hackers.

Google patched the flaw in June, but the large number of victims in the 4chan leak also suggests that the hack may have begun months ago - at the time of this flaw.

Dropbox flaw
Similarly, in May, a flaw was found in Dropbox accounts that could have given unauthorized access to accounts.

Am i at risk?

If a flaw in the iCloud service was to blame, any customer could have been at risk.

iCloud's My Photo Stream feature uploads new photos to the cloud as soon as the device is connected to Wi-Fi; this is to keep photos synchronized across all your devices.

Disabling this option prevents photos automatically being uploaded.

Be aware that deleting a photo from a device does not mean it has been deleted from your online storage account.

The photos may also appear in photo streams on other devices, and any phone or tablet that is synced with that iCloud account.

This means you should delete photos from all of these areas if you want to get rid of them permanently.

In order to make your private data more secure, you should cherry-pick the data you store in the cloud and know when the data is set to automatically leave your device.

You should also choose a hard to crack password, and not use that password on any other account.

- DailyMail

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