Sunday 15 December 2019

Jennifer Lawrence: the very private pictures, the very public humiliation

We should all feel sorry for the 24-year-old Hunger Games star, says Aoife Kelly

Hacked: the nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence appeared online on Sunday
Hacked: the nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence appeared online on Sunday
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

As a woman, witnessing what is happening to actress Jennifer Lawrence, model Kate Upton and singer Ariana Grande and up to 100 other female stars is utterly horrifying.

Thanks to an alleged hacker, their private, intimate photos, intended solely for their partners, are zooming around the web, available for anyone without scruples to screen-grab and store.

What is almost as infuriating and galling as the illegal act of hacking is the fact that some quarters are levelling blame at Jennifer Lawrence and the others for taking naked photos of themselves. 'If they didn't take them, this wouldn't have happened.'

But taking naked photos of yourself with your phone is not only entirely legal, it is also entirely normal.

So it's important to point out that this whole sorry situation is not, in any way, Jennifer's fault. No woman being abused in this way can be blamed for what has happened in the same way a woman cannot be blamed for being raped.

What Jennifer's situation does highlight, however, are the considerable risks associated with storing intimate images on your phone or iCloud. I'm no technology expert, but as far as I know anything stored online is susceptible to hacking. If they can hack your online bank account, it seems to me that your iCloud would be something of a doddle.

Personally, I would rather someone hacked my bank account and cleaned me out than expose my private images online so I would like to see at least the same security protections in place.

Even leaving hacking aside, there are more pedestrian risks like plain old phone theft, or loss, a vengeful or careless ex, or even accidental posting. It happens.

Celebrities don't get much sympathy for being chased down like prey by paparazzi who then flog the photos for our rabid consumption every day of the week. But it's impossible not to feel outraged by this appalling breach of privacy.

It's one thing being photographed out and about in public - being a successful actor means the milk run will never be the same again - but it's another thing entirely to have your most intimate photo collection raided and, in the most malicious of moves, exposed on the internet.

On Sunday night, images of these celebrities, and more, were posted on 4chan, an online image sharing forum, in an apparent hacking leak linked to the Apple iCloud service.

The involvement of iCloud has not been confirmed but anonymous users on 4chan claimed to have taken the images from the service.

If activated, iCloud stores photos, email, contacts and other information online, allowing users to sync this data over different devices (like iPhones and iPads). They can also access it from any computer using their log-in or password.

It is possible access to the accounts was gained by hackers guessing passwords or resetting their accounts by finding their email and answering security questions.

Whilst some like Ariana Grande and actress Victoria Justice have said the images are fakes, Lawrence's spokesperson has confirmed the authenticity of hers.

Even if you wanted to avoid perpetuating the abuse of Jennifer Lawrence by viewing her images, it was difficult to avoid them on Twitter on Sunday night.

So, for those inclined to try to capitalise on a young woman's bad luck, it was a veritable free-for-all.

As if that is not heinous enough, the alleged hacker reportedly claims to have a film of The Hunger Games actress performing a sex act, and is accepting PayPal donations for the video.

Jennifer Lawrence may just be the name of an Oscar-winning actress to you, someone alien, someone you can't relate to because she has too much talent, too much money. But it's worth bearing in mind that she's also just a young woman of 24.

She has parents - mum Karen, a children's camp manager, and dad Gary, a construction worker. She has two older brothers, Ben and Blaine. Imagine how utterly devastated she feels about her big brothers or her dad, or their friends, stumbling across those images on the web.

Then there's her new relationship with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. Chris and his ex-wife Gwynneth Paltrow had a 'conscious uncoupling' just five months ago and he and Jennifer have reportedly been dating for just 10 weeks. It's new. They're in the throes of the early days. They have already been scrutinised thanks to the age difference (he's 37). They probably don't know each other very well. The photos were probably taken by, or for, a former boyfriend. It's awkward, and embarrassing.

The repercussions of the hacker's actions for Jennifer, Kate Upton, Ariana Grande, and the others are far-reaching. They have boyfriends, husbands, children, parents, careers to protect. They will forever be asked questions about this incident. They will always wonder where those images have been stored, and when they will resurface again.

Suddenly, the entire world can view, even store, your private images. Will they pop up if potential employers Google your name? Worse, will your dad unwittingly happen across them? Will they resurface when you think it has all blown over, years from now, when your sons are teenagers?

You could be one of those poor individuals who becomes famous overnight only to have your ex partner sell intimate shots of you to a tabloid. How many regular women find their exes have sold their intimate photos to a porn site? How many don't even know he has done that? It doesn't bear thinking about.

Of course, celebrity or not, you have every right to do whatever you want with your partner in privacy, whether that involves taking naked photos with, or for, each other, or indulging in a shared balloon fetish (or whatever else tickles your fancy). It's private. It's nobody else's business. It's legal.

Our phones have become such an integral part of our lives that we document everything with photos and videos, incessant selfies posted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. It's not surprising they have entered the realm of the bedroom too.

And given many of us travel for work these days - celebrities particularly struggle with being separated from their partners for long periods of time - it's really tough to maintain the sense of intimacy born out of being physically present with each other. Phones are the lifeblood of the long-distance relationship thanks to calls, Skype, emails, photos, and videos. When they are all you have you tend to overlook the risks.

However, the risks are very real. You cannot guarantee that photos and videos will remain private, despite your best intentions and efforts, as the women at the centre of this hacking attack will testify.

It is 100pc not your fault if some creep hacks your account. But regardless of whose fault it is, the fact remains that those images can end up online. No matter how they got there, once they are there in the public domain, it's very difficult to erase them entirely.

So, until the risk of exposure is eliminated entirely, perhaps it's best to err on the side of caution, and refrain from taking intimate images with your phone at all. If you must, maybe dust down a good old-fashioned camera. After all, you can't hack a Polaroid.

This leak of nude photos 'shouldn't  worry the average user of the cloud'

The reported hacking of Jennifer Lawrence's iCloud and the publication of nude photographs should not worry the average cloud user, says an industry expert.

Brian Lee, the representative for the Irish Centre for Cloud Commuting and Commerce (IC4), says: "Without knowing the details of this case, most attacks like this come back to lack of security by the user. Weak passwords can easily be broken by 'brute force' methods - a computer will be set to try all combinations."

"Most of the top-level Cloud service providers offer automatic encryption on upload to the cloud. Even today, it would be almost impossible to break encryption."

A way to safeguard your data is to ensure you have a strong password - mixing upper and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. Lee advises against using place names, real names or anything related to you that could be guessed or researched.

"The most likely scenario involves an element of social engineering. This involves getting access to passwords by tricking the user, often through email or similar," says Brian Lee.

Two-step verification, like that offered by Google, is a good way to protect your online security. This involves a password followed by a code request, which is texted to a pre-linked mobile phone.

However, while data in the Cloud should be safe, users should be aware of how data is stored or protected on all of their devices.

"If your data is also stored locally, it is not encrypted. Someone could gain access this even if the same information is locked down on the Cloud."

Average users should be more careful around credit card and financial details. "These kind of attacks are cleverly crafted, well-engineered and take effort and ingenuity. They are sophisticated and can takes months to put together."

"There have been one or two cases involving insider attacks on large companies - where a group gains access through an insider. However this is rare - it's much more likely to have been related to user error".

Overall, users should be careful when deleting data to ensure the data is removed in all of its forms - including any backups. "When you delete it, it might not be deleted if the backup is not deleted."

"If data is fully deleted on the Cloud, it should be irretrievable."

Clare Cullen

Irish Independent

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