Scarlett Johansson's naked fury
Joe O'Shea on how the stars are hitting back at the hackerazzi
Published 06/11/2011 | 06:00
Scarlett Johansson's rear end has been occupying the FBI and a Californian courtroom this week as the celebrity-hacking craze gets serious. Celeb-obsessed computer nerd Christopher Chaney was in a Los Angeles district court to plead not guilty to hacking the email accounts of a string of famous actresses.
If convicted on charges of unauthorised access to a computer and wire-tapping, Chaney faces up to 121 years in a federal prison. The 35-year-old Floridian will be back in court next month and is expected to work out a plea bargain.
As Chaney was facing the judge, Ms Johansson was testifying to Vanity Fair, telling the magazine that the self-shot, nude photos had been meant for her now ex-husband Ryan Reynolds.
"There's nothing wrong with that," the actress told the magazine.
"It's not like I was shooting a porno . . . although there's nothing wrong with that either," she added.
And Scarlett professed to being proud of the way she looked in the pics, saying, "I know my best angles."
The blurry photos, of Johansson naked, holding a towel and a camera phone, were an internet sensation when they were leaked in September.
Confirmation that they were, indeed, candid shots of the 26-year-old actress came from the lady herself, as she set a team of lawyers and the FBI on the case.
The feds launched an investigation dubbed "Operation Hackerazzi", which turned up Chaney, who had hacked into the email accounts of more than 50 alleged victims, including Johansson and actress Mila Kunis.
Despite his not guilty plea, the hacker has apologised for his actions and is not believed to have made any money out of his activities.
The arrest of Chaney was the most dramatic development in what is fast becoming an all-out war involving celebrities, law enforcement agencies, celebrity gossip sites such as TMZ.com and a growing army of hackers, cyber-snoopers and web scammers.
Pictures of naked celebrities are, naturally, pure gold for the gossip sites and celeb mags.
In the highly sexualised, celebrity-obsessed media culture, if nude photos, gossip or evidence of naughty behaviour is digitally stored, either on smartphones, personal databases or in emails, the chances are it will be found.
But it is not just the stars who should be worried. Internet scammers are now turning our obsession with celebrity against us, using naked photos of the stars as bait for the unwary.
Net security experts such as Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at security firm Sophos, warns that clicking on a link to "Scarlett Johansson Nude Photos!" could open up your laptop, PC or iPad to all sorts of nasty viruses.
Cluely warns that a brief moment of titillation could leave you vulnerable to serious cyber threats, including identity theft or credit-card cloning, or at the very least, a nasty computer virus.
"There's been a frenzy of activity from the male population online looking for these pictures," says Cluley.
"I would say to people, be very, very careful because if I were a virus writer it would be very easy to send out links saying here are more naked pictures of Scarlett Johansson."
For the celebrities themselves, the security expert says the 'golden rule' for stars should be to abstain from taking naked photos.
Scarlett Johansson is just the latest in a long list of celebrities who have seen candid photos of themselves go up online. Previously squeaky-clean teen actress Vanessa Hudgens, of High School Musical fame ran into similar problems last year and Justin Timberlake and Jessica Alba have also been the victim of hackers.
In another case that came to light this week, Taylor Swift, the hugely popular and wholesome America's Sweetheart-style singer and actress, launched multiple legal actions against a number of websites she accused of wrongly identifying her in a "leaked" nude photo. The picture in question appeared on the gossip website Celebrity Jihad and featured a topless woman, who does bear a resemblance to Swift, under the headline, "Taylor Swift Topless Private Pic Leaked?"
Swift's lawyers fired off a letter to the site demanding it take down the post immediately, or face an action for trademark infringement.
Swift had previously been best known, to international audiences at least, for being the victim of singer Kanye West's bizarre stage invasion at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when West grabbed the microphone as Swift was being presented with an award and told the audience that Beyoncé should have won instead.
The problem for Swift's legal team and the investigators who look into celebrity hacking is the virtual anarchy that exists on the internet. Gossip sites pop up with salacious information but when it comes to deciding who to sue, it can get murky.
As the case involving Scarlett Johansson and the computer nerd who put her rear end on display to the world shows, the hackers are usually opportunistic outsiders, motivated by curiosity and seldom in a position to pay huge damages. It took the FBI to track down Chaney and his mother has had to post bail for him.
The argument can also be made that with stars such as Johansson happy to turn their image (and bodies) into commodities to sell everything from movies to perfumes, they can hardly blame their fans for wanting to see that little bit more.
The troubled actress Lindsay Lohan had been due to shoot a Playboy spread before she was jailed, yet again, this week (the shoot is worth a reported $1m).
The lines between movie-stardom and soft porn are being blurred.
Hip-hop mogul P Diddy is about to publish a coffee table book devoted to the female derrière titled, tastefully, Culo, the Spanish word for "ass".
Diddy promises that the 248-page photo book will feature the rear ends of some of the world's most beautiful women.
The photos have been shot by fashion photographer Raphael Mazzuco and the cover features a naked rear end drenched in what looks like olive oil (and makes Scarlett Johansson's nude photos look positively tame).
However, feminists and others worried about the possible objectification of women should rest easy. Diddy tells us that Culo represents an "art, fashion, and pop-culture movement that defies all national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries".
We could ask why celebrity-hackers would even go to all of that trouble when Diddy puts out a giant, full-colour photo book of famous women's rears.
But you can see why he went for the Spanish version of the word. After all, "P Diddy Presents . . . Ass" lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.