For a few minutes this week, Taylor Swift's official Twitter and Instagram accounts were being run by someone who is not Taylor Swift. She's back in control of her social media—but the hacker tells me he obtained private DMs—and nude photographs—and is attempting to sell them to TMZ.
Yesterday afternoon, Veri (I don't know his real name, but you can follow him on Twitter) spoke to me via Kik, the instant messaging smartphone app, starting with link to a tweet and a question: "How exciting is this?"
By the time I clicked, the tweet was gone. Veri—whose previous online accomplishments include pretending to be an agent of the Islamic State—claims it was a naked selfie by Taylor Swift censored only with a black bar.
Veri claims to be in possession of "around six" of Taylor's naked selfies, stripped from a full backup of her iPhone that he downloaded from her iCloud. Yesterday, when Veri's claims were first circulating, Swift immediately denied that any such pictures exist:
PS any hackers saying they have 'nudes'? Psssh you'd love that wouldn't you! Have fun photoshopping cause you got NOTHING.— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) January 27, 2015
It's easy to believe her: Swift is meticulous, well-behaved, and immensely careful, and throughout our conversation, Veri refused to show me any confirmation. ("I'm keeping that private for now, I shouldn't have tweeted it"). Even his excuse—that he's attempting to sell the images to TMZ, and has already turned down a sum he refused to disclose—is suspect: TMZ has long shied away from obtaining or publishing nudes and sex tapes (they passed on Celebgate, remember?).
But Veri has been able to back up every single other one of his claims, down to the DMs he told me TMZ also wants to buy:
Although Twitter rushed to change Swift's password on her behalf, Veri is still able to browse the cached messages on his phone. DM senders include celebrities and musicians like The 1975—the band whose lead singer Matt Healy is rumored to be dating Swift—and Lily Allen, actors like Zach Braff (who sent a photo) and Lena Dunham, and even gossip blogger Perez Hilton, and MSNBC host Ronan Farrow.
But that conversation was all Veri managed to load before Twitter came to the rescue: "I got what I could," he told me. "[Swift] has a lot of useful contacts at Twitter and [Instagram], she texts employees actually."
But none of these friends in high and geeky places were enough to keep Swift's accounts safe to begin with. Veri said he cracked open her social media by way of her (very obvious) AOL email:
Veri claimed he was able to infiltrate this email account through an "AOL 0day"—a hacker term for a software vulnerability completely unknown to the target. From there, he was easily able to reset Swift's Twitter, Instagram, and iCloud accounts—if you have someone's email account, you've basically handed yourself a blank check. Veri said he wanted to help Swift before he hijacked her: "I tried contacting Taylor several times regarding her security and she didn't listen. I wish [she] cooperated with me, I could've helped her a lot."
I don't know why Veri hacked Taylor Swift, and I'm not sure he's totally sure. Why did he pick her? "She's the third most popular celebrity" (on what list, I'm not sure). So, if he's rejected TMZ's offer for the nudes, was this mostly just for personal fun? "I guess, yes." If he can't find a buyer for the pilfered shots, Veri says he'll "probably save [them] for the future," or just delete them altogether. That is, if they ever existed.