The untold truth of the celebrity nude photo hackings

"Celebgate" or as it came to be called, "The Fappening," was the distribution of naked images of celebrities that were illegally obtained through the compromise of their personal iCloud accounts. When it was all said and done, over 100 celebs, mostly women, were victims of having their most intimate photos spread across the internet for all to see. Among them was Jennifer Lawrence, who condemned even the viewing of the photos as "a sex crime" in an emotional Vanity Fair interview. The sordid event, though shameful, highlighted problems with not only internet security, but also the way in which privacy, particularly that of famous people, is viewed. Here is the untold truth of the hacked celebrity photo scandals.

There were actually three phases of 'The Fappening'

First off, the term "fappening" is a mashup of the words "fap," which is internet slang for masturbation, and "happening," so already this was going to be disgusting no matter what it entailed. But like we previously mentioned, it entailed users of websites like 4chan and reddit sharing naked images that were stolen from the iCloud accounts of actresses like Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Emily Ratajkowski, Aubrey Plaza, and many many more.

According to Know Your Meme, the first photo dump was on August 31, 2014, when a list of over 100 names was published on a 4chan board called /b/, which for years has served as an anonymous breeding ground for the worst of web content, including "rape porn, self-harm pics, and creepy drawings of scantily clad children that aren't allowed in other forums," according to The Washington Post. The photos quickly spread to other forums and photo-sharing sites, like Reddit, and imgur, but the public outcry was also swift. Eventually the photos could only be found on torrent sites and darknet sources with untraceable origins. But that didn't stop hackers from leaking photos again and again.

In September and October of 2014, three more collections of stolen photos were released, but to less fanfare than the first time. And after a quick arrest of one hacker (more on that in a minute) and subsequent threats of legal action by some of the celebrity victims, there was a significant cooling period until the latest round. Then, in March of 2017, photos of Amanda Seyfried, Justin Long, and Emma Watson were released. Watson quickly condemned the leaks and Seyfried threatened to sue sites sharing the photos, according to The Daily Mail. So, while the tolerance for this garbage has certainly waned, unfortunately it's still happening.

The prison terms for the hackers responsible weren't that harsh

If some creepy hacker sitting in his mom's basement all jacked up on Red Bull and Cheetos stole your naked photos and flung them onto the internet for all to see, what kind of prison sentence would you like to see him get? Because the guys who did it to these celebs didn't get much time at all. In fact, the harshest punishment was given to Christopher Chaney, who got a sentence of 10 years for accessing "the email accounts of more than 50 people in the entertainment industry between November 2010 and October 2011," according to CBS. Which means, yes, that makes him a predecessor to the later celeb photo hacking events we're even talking about here.

According to Lancaster Online, the second hacker, a father of two named Ryan Collins, was sentenced to just 18 months in late October of 2016 after pleading guilty to "one count of gaining unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information." This is somehow in spite of the fact that he was accused of "gaining access to more than 100 Google and Apple accounts, many belonging to famous women." Though The Washington Times reported that investigators offered no proof that Collins actually leaked the photos he illegally obtained, they did say that "they set their sights on him while investigating the 2014 "Celebgate" scandal."

Finally, a third man, named Edward Majerczyk, was sentenced to a mere nine months in January of 2017 after accepting the same plea deal as Collins, for the same single count of "gaining unauthorized access" even though, also like Collins, Majerczyk had allegedly breached the accounts of 30 celebrities and stolen intimate pictures and videos. Oh whoops, we almost forgot. Majerczyk was also "ordered to pay $5,700 in restitution for counseling services for one undisclosed celebrity victim whose photos were disseminated online," according to USA Today, so never mind everyone. Justice was totally done here.

Reddit allegedly knew the photos were being shared and didn't move quickly to stop it

Like 4chan, Reddit is a forum based entirely on user-shared content. Redditors, as the site users are called, discuss and share content within subreddits, or subs, which are specified threads created for every possible interest imaginable, including celebrity nudes. Since Reddit is a much more mainstream outlet than 4chan, the spread of "The Fappening" happened largely under a subreddit called, r/thefappening. According to the creator of the sub, John Menese, he was able to track an uptick in the transfer of Reddit gold, which is a premium feature redditors pay for to be able to trade the so-called "gold" to one another. In an interview with Wired, Menese alleges that Reddit made enough from this in the six days they allowed the sub to hang around "to power its servers for roughly a month," and that doesn't even address the ad revenue that was possibly generated from the "quarter billion pageviews Menese's subreddit created."

Reddit's overall response to the scandal was initially to hide behind the guise of free speech, and then almost immediately cave to the mounting legal actions and spam attacks that the popularity of the sub attracted. "Those two events occurring together have created great confusion. That is: we put up a blog post explaining why we don't ban things for reason X (which some people want us to, but we will not), but at the same time behavior in a subreddit started violating reason Y (a pre-existing and valid rule for which we do ban things) and we banned it, resulting in much confusion," wrote then-CEO Yishan Wong in a blog post (via Forbes). Here's what's not confusing. It's creepy, gross, and wrong to have any part in sharing stolen nude photos of people. Period.

There's been an underground circuit trading stolen celebrity photos for years

Believe it or not, we've only barely scratched the surface in explaining how deep the online subculture of sharing celebrity nude photos truly goes. According to The Verve's analysis of the so-called "darknet," what they define as "a term for private networks where connections are made only between trusted peers," the massive leak of photos that lead to "The Fappening" was the exception, rather than the rule of how these kinds of illicit images are usually handled. Apparently, in some kind of "honor among thieves" type of arrangement, the members of these societies don't usually accept payment, because they value loyalty to the group over any dollar amount. "There are a lot more people with money than with the ability to get these goods," is how security researcher Dan Kaminsky described the general sentiment of these group members.

But according to another security researcher, Nic Cubrilovic, at some point someone started asking for money in exchange for photos, which opened the floodgates to massive and widespread leaking that eventually escaped the private groups. "My theory is that other members of the ring, seeing the leaks and requests for money also decided to attempt to cash in, thinking the value of the images would soon approach zero, which lead to a race to the bottom between those who had access to them," he said. So, "The Fappening" occurred when the pervy honor code of an anonymous internet group collided with the shameless opportunism of amateur pornographers undercutting each other's prices. This thing just gets worse and worse, doesn't it?

Everyone blamed iCloud security, but that technically wasn't the problem

One of the biggest knee-jerk reactions to "The Fappening" was iPhone and Mac users rushing to figure out how to protect their personal info and data from intrusions into the iCloud network. And while it's technically true that the hackers exploited an oversight in iCloud security that allowed for unlimited guesses at passwords before being locked out, no one ever penetrated Apple's systems, as was initially alleged.

But according to CNN Money, Apple did recognize their culpability in not initially instituting two-step security, which uses "email and push notifications to alert users when someone tries to change an account password, restore cloud data on a new device, or connect an unfamiliar device to an existing Apple account." And this is precisely the change that Apple decided to make in the wake of "The Fappening" and other celebrity hacking scandals, even though Apple CEO Tim Cook still tried to couch the whole thing as a user issue. In his statement, he said, in part, "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," which many viewed as a shirking of responsibility on behalf of Apple to protect its users.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation rejected donations made in the name of "The Fappening"

In an era when crowd-sourcing is a more reliable fundraiser than getting a bank loan, social movements often spur massive amounts of donations to a related and worthy cause. Point in case: The Ice Bucket Challenge that swept the nation and invaded Facebook timelines for entirely too long. Yes, it was annoying after a while, but it also generated record donations for the ALS Association, including an astounding $8.6 million dollars in one day alone.

We suppose it was in that spirit, albeit misguided as it certainly was, that fans of "The Fappening" started donating money to the Prostate Cancer Foundation under the gross moniker of the hacked celeb scandal. Once the charity organization got wind of the Reddit post that was directing followers to donate, they immediately returned all funds donated under "The Fappening," with the message (via Vox) that read, in part, "We would never condone raising funds for cancer research in this manner. Out of respect for everyone involved and in keeping with our own standards, we are returning all donations that resulted from this post."

Ricky Gervais actually blamed the celebs who had their photos stolen

As with any viral sensation, "The Fappening" generated a wide range of celebrity responses. Most of them quickly and strongly condemned the leaks, like Lena Dunham who took to Twitter, writing, "Remember, when you look at these pictures you are violating these women again and again. It's not okay." She also charged that the people who leaked the photos are "sex offenders," not hackers.

Not surprisingly, comedian Ricky Gervais, who is known for his unfiltered approach, also used Twitter to respond. "Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer," he wrote. Granted, he has a point, but you have to travel pretty far down the list of responsibility for nude photos that got leaked onto surreptitious "dark" websites by people who went to extraordinary effort to get them, which were then circulated by forums masquerading as free speech defenders, before you arrive at the famous person who innocently took an intimate photo for a loved one.

Gervais quickly deleted the tweet, but defended himself later in another series of tweets claiming he was joking, and that "the hackers are 100% to blame." He also tweeted a shot of himself in the bathtub with the caption "Anyone who retweets this leaked erotic photo of me should be ashamed of themselves." Trigger warning: clicking that link leads to chest hair that cannot be unseen.

Internet sensation Ken Bone was collateral damage of the leaks

The internet fell in love with Ken Bone during the 2016 Presidential Election after he appeared as an audience member of the town hall style debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. He was meme'd so fast, he was famous before the debate was even over. His signature red cable knit sweater and khakis became one of the hottest Halloween costumes of the year. And according to The New York Post, his twitter followers jumped from seven to over 240,000 overnight. But then Ken Bone did a Reddit AMA, which is ironically it's own kind of town hall meeting, only it's conducted by redditors who will not hesitate to attempt to dig up the most embarrassing dirt on the interviewee they can find.

Unfortunately for Bone, he logged into Reddit with his actual username, which the AMA participants immediately scoured for his browsing history on the forum. They quickly found that Bone was not only into "preggo porn" — He once described the women on the subreddit that features pregnant women having sex as "beautiful human submarines" — but he also made comments suggesting that Trayvon Martin's death was justified, as well as admitted to committing insurance fraud. And of course, the reason he's mentioned here is because he also admitted to looking at the photos from "The Fappening." "Maybe she should have been more careful with her pics, but the bad guys are still the ones who sought them out and looked at them. By which I mean guys like me. I saw her b**t h**e. I liked it," he commented under photos of Jennifer Lawrence. And that's how you go from famous to infamous in no time.

Dame Helen Mirren wouldn't have cared if her pics got hacked

Dame Helen Mirren is known for shooting from the hip — that is, she speaks her mind and doesn't care who is bothered by it. But she's also still Dame Helen Mirren, so unsurprisingly, her irreverence towards "The Fappening" came across with a bit more elegance than Ricky Gervais' commentary. In an interview with Magic FM (via The Huffington Post), Mirren joked that she was disappointed that she wasn't included in the hacked celebrities. "I kept desperately looking at the list of people whose phones were hacked, hoping to see my name. You weren't anybody if your phone hadn't been hacked," she said.

And though she wouldn't mind if her nude photos went public — presumably because she's appeared nude in numerous films as The Daily Mail points out — she's apparently not in the habit of snapping risque shots with her iPhone. "Who on earth would put nude photos of themselves on their phones anyway? That I don't quite get," Mirren also said, before laying into the hackers themselves. "The anonymity the hackers have should be taken away. To do it anonymously is so cowardly," she said. Then she offers what is probably the most truthful analysis of "The Fappening" ever spoken. "There are an awful lot of 12-year-old boys, who are anything between the age of 11 and 45," she said. Dame Helen Mirren, ladies and gentleman.