Wednesday 22 November 2017

Hunt for the Hollywood hacker who leaked Jennifer Lawrence's naked pictures

Amateur internet detectives are hunting for the hacker but it's not clear which law enforcement agency is leading the effort in real life

Raf Sanchez

The leak of nude photographs of Jennifer Lawrence has sparked a massive hunt for the hacker by the amateur sleuths of the internet.

But it's not clear who - if anyone - in law enforcement is actually investigating in real life.

The fact that many of the victims of the crime are based in Hollywood would make the Los Angeles Police Department an obvious first port of call.

A harried spokeswoman said that despite an avalanche of media interest she didn't know whether Los Angeles detectives were on the case. "I'm not sure if that's something our agency is handling," she said.

At the FBI - first in Los Angeles and then at their national headquarters in Washington DC - no one was available to comment on the case.

A spokesman for Lawrence said "authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos" but did not say which law enforcement agency the starlet had reached out to.

History suggests that such a case - involving high-profile targets, a potential breach of Apple's iCloud system, and hackers who may operate across state or international lines - will eventually end up with the FBI.

In late 2010, the FBI launched the colourfully-named "Operation Hackerazzi" to hunt down the hacker who stole naked pictures from the iPhones and computers of Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis and other celebrities.

The investigation, led by the FBI's field bureau, took 11 months but eventually led to the arrest and prosecution of Christopher Chaney, a Florida hacker.

Johansson recorded a tearful statement that was played in court, in which she described being "truly humiliated and embarrassed" as her photographs circulated on the internet.

Chaney was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Apple, meanwhile, has said it is looking into the claims that the photographs were stolen from the celebrities' iCloud system. “We take user privacy very seriously and are actively investigating this report,” a spokeswoman told Recode.

A key element for the tech giant will be whether the whole system is compromised or if hackers had just managed to break into individual accounts.

While law enforcement has so far been tight-lipped about the investigation, a freewheeling and open-sourced investigation is already well underway by the amateur detectives of the internet.

Users of the reddit social networking service have been combing the web for clues and their suspicions soon turned on Bryan Hamade, a 27-year-old man from Georgia.

Redditors claimed that screenshots posted by the leaker of the Lawrence photos showed network drives in the background which matched drives on Mr Hamade's computer.

In an interview with Buzzfeed, Mr Hamade strenuously denied being responsible and said he was being bombarded with abusive phone calls and emails by internet vigilantes.

The detectives of Reddit have leapt to conclusions many times before, most famously accusing a missing university student of being behind the Boston bombings.

The student, Sunil Tripathi, had in fact killed himself some time before but his body was not found until ten days after the bombing.

Reddit's general manager later posted an apology, saying discussions on the site had "fuelled online witch hunts".

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