FBI investigating celebrity phone, email hacking: Anonymous or journalists?

Summary:Prominent celebrities have been hacked by phone and email, reports suggest. Could it be journalists looking for a scoop, or could notorious hacktivist group Anonymous be behind it?

U.S. law enforcement is investigating computer hacking against celebrities, which have left a series of high-profile stars embarrassed after explicit photos of them were published online.

The FBI stated that it was investigating, adding it will find "the person or groups responsible for a series of computer intrusions involving high-profile figures."

Though the FBI has not disclosed names, the BBC has reported that that actors Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba and Mila Kunis, along with singer Justin Timberlake could have been targeted. Johansson is believed to have contacted the FBI regarding the leaks, and her lawyers have instructed that the sites take down the photos under Digital Millennium Copyright (DMCA) laws.

As the LA Times report, people claiming to be a hacking group have said that they are responsible, though the claims cannot be verified.

Amid the thick of it in London, with ongoing phone and even computer hacking claims against high-profile figures, celebrities and politicians by journalists at the now defunct newspaper News of the World, it is not clear whether journalists or notorious hacktivist group Anonymous are behind the hacks.

(Source: Flickr)

Could it be journalists? For nearly five years, British journalists working at a tabloid newspaper were hacking into the voicemails of celebrities and other prominent figures in society. Private investigators were brought in by the newspaper to illegally access mobile phone voicemails; one journalist served time in prison, and others since have been arrested, charged or bailed.

It reached a peak earlier this year, after the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler was one of the phones targeted, leading to a seeming blood thirst by members of Parliament and citizens alike to see the newspaper brought to justice.

A parliamentary committee is investigating the full breadth of the scandal, which only seemingly scratches the surface of the widespread activity of phone hacking. The hacking scandal was brought to the front door of the British government, when former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as the government's spokesperson after fresh allegations of his possible involvement emerged. He was subsequently arrested.

The hacking scandal rocked the journalism world. Other newspapers were alleged to have been involved -- including U.S. newspapers. Still under investigation by the FBI, it emerged that the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks could have fallen victim to News Corporation's rogue journalists.
The newspaper was closed in July by parent company News International, a company owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, after sales tanked and dozens of advertisers dropped out of the publication.

Or do we blame Anonymous? The group known as Anonymous is unknown in size but is surely known for its deviant potential. But the group, or rather the ideology that Anonymous represents, has been known for its breakaway unit of hackers that have in some cases targeted some of the biggest names in the IT industry.

An Anonymous spin-off has been blamed for the recent hack on the NBC News Twitter stream hack, which led to a series of false tweets being published, claiming that the Ground Zero site in lower Manhattan was attacked by terrorists, only days before the 10th anniversary commemoration ceremonies.

Notably, the breakaway group known as 'Hollywood Hacks' has previously targeted celebrities including Miley Cyrus, Tom Cruise and Ashley Green. Promising to wreak havoc on celebrities by promising "Hollywood carnage", in some cases privately stored photos were published online.

As the new hackers on the block, it may not come as a surprise should this new group be the focus of the FBI's investigation. The splinter group has posted multiple messages over the past few weeks, mostly to code-repository Pastebin. Included in these posts, details of phone numbers, email addresses and other content, such as voicemails to YouTube and private pictures on photo-sharing sites were published.

It could be neither after all. Nowadays, the blur between traditional journalism and online media has blurred, with a third citizen journalism angle thrown into the mix. It could be a lone hacker or a group unrelated to either the journalism world or any one of the Anonymous collectives.

Having said that, with both U.S. and UK societies rocked by widely discussed and reported phone tapping, computer hacking and denial-of-service attacks by hackers and journalists alike, it is hard to not point the finger at this stage to one, or both.

Topics: Collaboration, Government, Government : US, Mobility, Security

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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