A flood of nude photos from major Hollywood stars began to leak onto the Internet on Sunday, coming from the online community site 4chan and spreading via social media sites like Reddit and Twitter. But the exact nature and true source of the leak is only now starting to become clear.
Initially believed to be a massive breach of Apple's iCloud service, as the dust has begun to settle, some new details have emerged. A 4chan user going by the name "OriginalGuy" is the first publicly known source of the leaked photos, however it appears that they were not all originally obtained by the leaker.
We are now learning that a secret ring of photo-trading sites has existed for some time, as hackers have used various methods to exploit weaknesses with iCloud and other online storage services and email accounts through phishing attacks and other methods. The only way to join "the club" was to trade originally obtained nude photos of a celebrity with an existing member, keeping the group small and deeply embedded on the so-called "dark web" side of the Internet.
When an outsider recently used Bitcoins to purchase several of the photos, including shots of Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, he began leaking them to the public and set off a chain reaction of others conducting their own follow-up leaks. Thus, what seemed like a massive single-day breach of privacy, instead may have been in the works for months and only the start of a long series of leaks to come. Even now, a user is teasing members of Reddit with what purports to be thumbnails of explicit videos featuring Lawrence, in which she is allegedly performing acts on a man.
Several celebrities verified the authenticity of the initial wave of photos, including Lawrence, vowing to work with authorities to bring the leakers to justice. Others, like Victoria Justice and Ariana Grande, claimed that the photos being circulated of them were fake. These denials have caused Reddit's top scientists (a.k.a. a bunch of guys with too much time on their hands) to begin dissecting the photos of Grande, Justice, and others.
The commenters seek to match moles, body hair, articles of clothing and background architectural details. Compilations of non-nude public photos have been compared with the leaked nudes, resulting in presentations that look like they were put together by the Warren Commission -- if the Warren Commission had been made-up entirely of Internet perverts.
Compelling evidence now exists on many of these sites that authentic nude photos of Ariana Grande, Victoria Justice, Aubrey Plaza and others have been leaked and are probably the real deal. More leaks are almost certainly coming in the next few days, as the FBI takes on the case. Instead of chasing a single hacker, however, authorities may find themselves on the trail of dozens or even hundreds of hackers.