Sunday, September 18, 2011

Those Hackers!

(image credit)

So it turns out that Scarlett Johansson is the latest celebrity to have nude photos of her leaked onto the internet. (A little googling will easily turn them up, should you be interested, although I've got no idea why you would be).  Apparently the FBI is investigating whether this may have been the work of a hacker.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and make a wild prediction - no 'hacker' will be found. Not because the FBI will be unable to track them down (although, should they exist, that may well be true as well), but because I'm skeptical that any such hacker exists.

The problem is that this whole thing fails Hanlon's razor : Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

What would need to happen for this to be the work of hackers?

Well, first they'd need to know Scarlett Johansson's phone number or IP address.

You may have noticed that these things aren't exactly floating around the internet.

Then you'd need some sort of way to hack into the device. This is possible, but requires a fairly large skillset in computers. A skillset that might be able to pull you down a six figure salary doing a real job, rather than spending months trying to hack celebrities' phones and computers.

Now, people like this do actually exist. But this kind of job requires a lot of work, and runs the risk of serious jail time. That's a lot of effort just to look at some breasts. And sure enough, in the previous cases where people have been caught doing this kind of thing, there have been very big conventional incentives to justify their behavior.

In the News of the World phone hacking scandal, the incentive was that the newspaper was able to get big scoops about celebrities and politicians, and thereby sell a ton more papers and make lots of money. So they paid big bucks for phone hacking.

Anthony Pellicano was paid a lot by Hollywood celebrities to eavesdrop on other Hollywood celebrities.

But what happened here? The photos were leaked on the internet, so nobody made any money out of them. So far, nobody has claimed credit either, so there's no public props for being the hacker in question.

The incentives just don't make sense. It all sounds a little far-fetched.

Now, to motivate an alternative hypothesis, let me begin with a question.

Who do you think is going to be more enamored of naked photos of Scarlett Johansson to the point of keeping them on their phone?

a) Scarlett Johansson herself, or

b) Some dude that Scarlett Johansson sent the photos to.

Call me crazy, but I'm going with option b).

So consider the following alternative scenario.

Scarlett Johansson sent the pictures to former husband Ryan Reynolds, or some boyfriend before/since.

Said male keeps pictures on phone, because it's cool to have naked photos of Scarlett Johansson. Phone is left accidentally in a bar one night / left unattended and gone through by a friend / insert mishap here, and the interloper sends the photo to themselves. They then show it to their friends, and someone posts it on the internet, and it goes public.

Or how about 'Scarlett Johansson accidentally sends the photos to the wrong number in her phone book, and to hide her shame, invents a story about her phone being hacked and wastes the FBI's time as a face-saving measure'.

It happened to both Anthony Weiner and Hayley Williams, who were using twitter to try to send naked photos to someone privately, and managed to send them out as public tweets instead. Both claimed they'd been hacked, even though amazingly there was no evidence of any hacking that investigators could uncover.

Now, dear reader, ask yourself this - does it really seem likely that the leaking of these photos involved any 'hacking' more complicated than just sending a normal text message?

Let's just put it this way - I'm not holding my breath waiting for any arrests.

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