Nude pictures of Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence and other Hollywood celebrities surfaced online yesterday in what is being called the biggest celebrity hacking incident in Internet history.
An anonymous hacker claimed to have gained access to the private and intimate photographs through the celebrities' iCloud accounts and posted them on 4chan, an image forum where people can share pictures anonymously, reported various media.
But Apple has not confirmed a breach of its popular online service.
A list of the victims - 101 in total - was also posted online.
They include actresses and singers such as Kirsten Dunst, Victoria Justice, Kate Upton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson, Teresa Palmer, Yvonne Strahovski, Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Avril Lavigne and Ariana Grande.
Some 4chan users later claimed to have access to more explicit content, including a video of Lawrence, which they were willing to upload in exchange for payments via PayPal or Bitcoin, reported The Independent.
Not all the pictures are of the celebrities in the nude.
Some were selfies of the stars in swimsuits, reported Buzzfeed.
Hunger Games star Lawrence, who won a Best Supporting Actress for American Hustle, drew the most attention online, with her name trending on Twitter and many users reposting her racy photos.
Twitter later suspended a number of accounts that had posted the stolen images of Lawrence, but a spokesman declined to comment on this, reported technology website Mashable.
The photos of Lawrence appear to be a mixture of selfies and shots taken by someone else, reported TMZ Online.
They show her posing in various swimsuits, topless or fully naked.
The alleged hacker claimed to have as many as 60 images of Lawrence in explicit positions, reported The Daily Star.
Lawrence's publicist, Ms Bryna Rifkin, confirmed in an official statement to Buzzfeed that the photos were authentic and vowed to take legal action.
"This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence," she said.
Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who reportedly had six nude photos leaked, expressed her frustration at the theft.
"To those of you looking at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, hope you feel great about yourselves," she tweeted.
"Knowing those photos were deleted long ago, I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked."
Not all the victims said the leaked pictures were authentic.
American actress and singer-songwriter Victoria Justice denied she was in any of the photographs.
"These so called nudes of me are FAKE people. Let me nip this in the bud right now. *pun intended*" she tweeted.
A spokesman for singer Grande also said the images of her client were "completely fake", reported Buzzfeed.
As the pictures gained traction online, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton uploaded some of the uncensored nude photographs of Lawrence and Justice on his website, reported Mashable.
He replaced them with censored ones later before eventually removing them. Hilton also apologised for his actions later on Twitter.
"No, I haven't been forced to do so or been contacted by their reps, but I am removing those uncensored photos of JLaw and Victoria Justice," he tweeted.
"Upon further reflection and just sitting with my actions, I don't feel comfortable even keeping the censored photos up. I am removing them."
Cloud storage breaches may get worse: Experts
Be careful of what you snap, especially if your pictures and videos are stored in the cloud.
Local security experts gave this warning yesterday after Hollywood celebrities' nude pictures were stolen from cloud servers and uploaded on a file-sharing website.
An anonymous hacker claimed to have accessed female celebrities' private pictures via Apple's online storage system iCloud. The company has not confirmed this.
Cloud storage, like any other security system, has flaws, especially when hacking is a global phenomenon that spares no organisation, said Mr David Ng, 34.
The product marketing manager for cloud and data centre security at Trend Micro said: "In this scenario where nude photos of celebrities are being leaked, the hackers may be compromising the storage service and not the user itself.
"The hackers did not specifically target one user, but the global servers that run the storage system."
The cloud offers IT services that are accessible via a network, and can sync and store data from multimedia devices. The data, including pictures, videos, documents and messages, is password-protected.
Even if you were to delete data from devices such as smartphones, tablets or cloud servers, it may not mean that you are 100 per cent safe, Mr Ng said.
"You may not know if the hackers have already stolen your data from the cloud servers. If so, you can only pray that the hackers don't find it interesting enough to expose it."
He said the risk of cloud storage systems being compromised will only become worse.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
So what can you do to protect yourself from breaches?
Mr Ng recommends anti-virus solutions to detect malicious software and applications that hackers may use to gain access to your computers.
Mr Terrence Tang, Trend Micro's senior director of consumer business, Asia-Pacific, also recommends that passwords be changed regularly.
"Before you download an application, check if the links are suspicious by reading the reviews and verifying it with other users," he said.
Ultimately, Mr Ng said, prevention is better than cure.
"The best practice is to not take compromising pictures that will leave you vulnerable. Always assume that your photos could get leaked," he said.
This article was first published on September 02, 2014.
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