How A “Minor” Data Breach Made Headline News & Ruined Reputations

Philip Bates 11-11-2014

Celebgate (aka The Fappening): the leaking of nude photos of celebrities. This is what happened, how it affects you, and how reputations were damaged – though not the ones you might expect.


Earlier this year, a number of naked photos of celebrities were leaked after hackers broke into iCloud accounts. The name that really hit the news was popular actress Jennifer Lawrence, of Hunger Games and X-Men fame, but it also affected Sports Illustrated model Kate Upton, Spider-Man‘s Kirsten Dunst, and The Big Bang Theory actress Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, as well as several who denied the photos were real.

It became quite a joke on Twitter Titillating Tweets: The 18 Funniest Reactions To The Celebrity Nudes Leak [Weird & Wonderful Web] Opinions on this saga have varied. We are not here to preach, so, presented without judgment on their suitability, here are some of the funniest tweets that appeared on Twitter in the aftermath. Read More , but what actually happened and its consequences are far more serious.

What Basically Happened?

In case you hadn’t heard from every major news outlet…

Kirsten Dunst

Publicly released at the end of August, an unknown quantity of private photos, certainly over 500 images, was released onto the Internet through image forum 4chan as a result of an anonymous hacker targeting accounts in iCloud. Since then, even more images have leaked including those of High School Musical actress Vanessa Hudgens, pop star Avril Lavigne, and Kim Kardashian (famous for, uhm, another sort of leak).


It was revealed that it wasn’t a sole leaker, but a team of immoral do-no-gooders, and the Head Hacker went ‘on the run.’ Early last month, Google announced it had removed “tens of thousands” of naked images of celebrities and closed “hundreds of accounts.” Twitter, too, set to work suspending accounts circulating the photos. The FBI is also investigating.

Further celebrities have been threatened, most notably Harry Potter star Emma Watson, who heavily criticised anyone spreading or looking at the nudes.

Has Celebgate Affected Celebrities’ Reputations?

Well, not particularly! Fans of respective celebrities stood by their famous idols and scolded those who looked at said photos. Many refused to look as a mark of respect for women and privacy. Others have forgotten all about it. The public has behaved admirably, overall.

Kate Upton


It doesn’t seem to have affected celebrities’ paths either: Jennifer Lawrence, for instance, is ever popular with the next installments of The Hunger Games and X-Men ready for release in 2015 and 2016 respectively. She’ll also play the lead roles in next year’s Serena and Joy. Stars continue to rise and ailing careers continue to tread water.

In fact, it seems to have helped give credence to Emma Watson’s HeForShe campaign, her UN speech encouraging gender equality almost universally praised.

One Twitter user cheekily reckoned it was all a publicity stunt to advertise Sex Tape, starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. Critically, it didn’t work. It does, however, add an extra layer of creepiness to upcoming movie, Open Window, argued Alison Willmore. Starring Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey, the film focuses on the price of fame and voyeuristic obsession with celebrity, and after Celebgate, it feels surprisingly close to home. As to how audiences will react… We’ll just have to wait and see!

What Other Reputations Have Been Damaged?

Not everyone has got out of this so lightly – or have they?


The scandal perhaps should’ve done untold damage to Apple. If we believe a theory banded around the Internet more than videos of pandas sneezing, the technology giant knew there was an issue with iCloud security, or at the very least should’ve known about its vulnerability… particularly as this seems a long-term problem: Mary Elizabeth Winstead tweeted that these images were “deleted long ago.”

Stock in Apple initially dropped. It was a bad time for the company, who were setting up to launch the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. CEO Tim Cook was rolled out to reassure customers that the leak was being well and truly plugged. Stock prices crawled back up (admittedly, this was partly due to their new products, not just Cook’s pleading). The iCloud vulnerability appears to have been through the Find My iPhone feature, which is, for many of us, just too handy to disable. Once again, we learn that it’s near impossible to irredeemably harm Apple’s reputation.

4chan’s reputation hasn’t particularly changed – it may have started out as a forum about anime but has further expanded and been linked to a number of other hacks – but its profile has certainly become more public.

It doesn’t seem to have done Rantic Marketing any good. Never heard of them? They were the PR team behind the crude site,, which hinted that Emma Watson was part of an upcoming NSFW leak – complete with a countdown and an image of the actress crying. It turned out to be a tasteless publicity stunt, claiming:


“We have been hired by celebrity publicists to bring this disgusting issue to attention. The recent 4chan celebrity nude leaks in the past 2 months have been an invasion of privacy and is also clear indication that the internet NEEDS to be censored.”

True, it was a terrible invasion of privacy, but Rantic didn’t go about it in the right fashion. Rather distressingly, they then tweeted, “We would like to apologize! We do not want 4chan down nor do we want censorship. 4chan has united the internet and is our family. #KEEP4CHAN

They say any publicity is good publicity…

The Good and the Bad: What You Should Take From This

Rantic might’ve accidentally touched upon a controversial issue surrounding the Internet: that of censorship. These hackers may have acted illegally, but the debate is open about whether anything should be censored. The argument is neatly summed up as freedom of speech/information versus the right to be forgotten.

Regardless, it has made people more aware of security issues. There are always tales of password leaks from companies like Google, eBay, YouTube, and social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. (But there are many ways to create a more secure password 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember If your passwords are not unique and unbreakable, you might as well open the front door and invite the robbers in for lunch. Read More .)

It’s also proved a further opportunity for copycats phishing, suggesting that someone’s iCloud account is compromised. Don’t click on the links and don’t enter your passwords. Send an email to the service in question and inquire whether the risk actually is real.

Final Thoughts

Emma Watson

Don’t get paranoid. Hackers are typically choosy when it comes to adult photos. No offense, but unless you’re in a high profile position, the press won’t care. That’s not to say the public aren’t targeted; spend some time reading our tips for not getting hacked like a celebrity 4 Ways To Avoid Being Hacked Like A Celebrity Leaked celebrity nudes in 2014 made headlines around the world. Make sure it doesn't happen to you with these tips. Read More .

Whether you’re a celeb or a member of the public, being victimised is a truly horrible thing. Do you have any stories of falling foul of the hackers? What have you taken from the experience? And do you have any tips for keeping your private details private (beyond don’t take naked selfies’)?

Image Credit: Jennifer Lawrence By MingleMediaTV; Kirsten Dunst by David Shankbone; Kate Upton by Peter Ko; Emma Watson by David Shankbone.

Related topics: Online Security, Security Breach.

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  1. AbSquatch
    November 13, 2014 at 2:57 am

    I thought you guys had a policy of just writing things people can "make use of".

    What's with the political/opinion piece that doesn't say anything about how to protect pictures in the cloud?

    • Philip Bates
      November 26, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      Nothing political was intended, I assure you. As for an article for protecting iCloud photos, I've included a link to this great article by Ben: //

      I do think "make use of" has a very wide meaning: true, nothing DIY results from this article, but I think by presenting the facts, some (myself included actually!) must learn something, and I think that knowledge is useful - even if it just makes you more aware of your Apple security.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • dragonmouth
      November 26, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      "I thought you guys had a policy of just writing things people can “make use of”. "
      This is an article adheres to policy. It shows how you too can gain notoriety by unscrupulously "making use of" of risque celeb photos. ;P

  2. KennyDee
    November 12, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    You would think they would know better. Lets upload naked images to the cloud.

    As dragonmouth said this could be a stunt. Do they have the same publicist? Have any of them made money from it?

    Sorry, but if you put images like that online then its fair game.

  3. dragonmouth
    November 12, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    "Celebgate (aka The Fappening):"
    "Fappening" I can sort of understand. But why does every scandal have to be some kind of "-gate"???!!! Shows a total lack of imagination. I would have thought that after the first 100 "-gates", the term would have gotten old.

    "Has Celebgate Affected Celebrities’ Reputations?"
    It is a truism that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
    Sick as it sounds, this could have been a publicity stunt cooked up by the celebs' publicists.

    Who in their right mind stores risque photos of themselves on public servers?! If you don't store such photos where hackers can access them, you have a much better claim for illegal invasion of privacy because any racy pictures would have been take covertly without your knowledge or permission. Of course, the ultimate answer is not to take incriminating pictures of yourself.

    The entire fiasco just points out that Cloud storage is not as secure as the its purveyors would have us believe.

    "And do you have any tips for keeping your private details private (beyond don’t take naked selfies’)?"
    If you insist on taking naked selfies, make sure you store them where as few people as possible can access them. Putting anything private on the Internet is like putting it on the cover of People Magazine or the front page on NY Times.

    • Philip Bates
      November 26, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks for commenting.

      I'm with you on that one: I hate all these "-gates", but sadly that's what it's been branded, so I had to go with general consensus!

      Now, I do know what you mean about any publicity being good publicity - and no, celebs' reputations don't seem to have been affected - but I truly think this was the work of genuine hackers with questionable motives. There seems to be real outrage from the whole celeb community and I'm not sure anyone would really put themselves through this willingly. I don't see how these faces (ones constantly in the media regardless) would benefit from something that could backfire.

    • dragonmouth
      November 26, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      @Phil Bates:
      "There seems to be real outrage from the whole celeb community"
      As a confirmed cynic, I would say the outrage is because the celeb community did not think of this themselves and cannot manipulate it. :-)