Everything is online today.
From homework and lesson plans to confidential corporate plans and financial records, even to our most personal and intimate photos and conversations: Everything exists online. And with the growing prominence of all things digital as well as innumerable software companies developing products to transfer even more information to virtual storage, this is a trend that we’re not going to see the end of any time soon.
What we will see more of, however, are the detrimental effects of hacking.
Anything can be hacked. From our personal cell phones to government and military records, anything can be hacked. We hear about it from time to time on the news, most often when it pertains to the election, or to military secrets, or, more often than not, to celebrity nude pictures.
The Sony hackings of 2014 changed the way Americans and many others around the world looked at hacking: This was now something serious, and as showings of The Interview were cancelled in theaters across the nation, we saw the real-life effects of what one or several hackers could do. We saw private emails, contracts, scripts, and all the ugliness that Hollywood hides behind the makeup and lights. But it won’t stop there.
You may not know the name Alonzo Knowles, but he is one of many hackers responsible for celebrity hackings akin to the so-called Fappening of leaked celebrity nude photos in 2014. Currently in jail for his crimes, Knowles already has plans for when he gets out, and they don’t include apologies or rehabilitation.
“I’m gonna be rich as hell.”
On August 31, 2014, nearly 500 private and intimate photos, mostly of female celebrities, were leaked onto 4chan and quickly disseminated across the internet. This event became known under the cheeky name “The Fappening,” combining the sexual slang word “fap” with “the happening.” Two more batches were released in the following weeks.
The ensuing scandal was a reminder of how very unsafe our secure networks and devices are, and much attention was paid specifically to the iCloud and similar cloud computer services that store data on remote servers.
Apple CEO Tim Cook would later clarify that this major hack was not the result of weak security on behalf of the iCloud, but rather because these celebrities had fallen victim to a very targeted instance of phishing, a fraudulent means that people obtain the sensitive information of others by posing as a legitimate company or representative.
The Daily Mail reported that an expansive ring of hackers had been involved with the acquiring, buying, selling, and distribution of the private photos, and that their public release in August had been months in the making. Various celebrities victimized by the attack were Jennifer Lawrence, Kaley Cuoco, Kirsten Dunst, Kate Upton, and Justin Verlander.
The problems posed by the hacking and release of these photos were varied and complex. At surface level, there was an extreme invasion of privacy here that brings up basic ethical concerns. This was also plainly a security issue, both caused by the hackers themselves and eased by the very celebrities who gave away sensitive information while being phished. Another major concern was that some of the affected celebrities, such as gymnast McKayla Maroney, were underage when the photographs were taken, meaning that leaking them already brought charges involving child pornography.
In the following months, several perpetrators were found by authorities and brought to justice, including hackers who weren’t directly involved with the Fappening but who committed similar crimes.
One such man was Alonzo Knowles, a 23-year-old from Freeport, Bahamas.