Thousands of people were exposed to X-rated photos of Israeli women on Telegram, and the suspects’ arrest did not put an end to the victims’ ordeal.
In early November, Israeli police arrested 12 men aged 17 to 30 on allegations that they ran a number of related Telegram channels, one of which reportedly had 16,000 members. The Telegram app users are able to communicate anonymously using end-to-end encryption, so Israeli cyber police spent months looking into messages in the channels for clues regarding the culprits.
One of the victims, only identified as ‘Orit’, said she had taken part in a nude photoshoot nine years ago to cope with stress caused by her fight with cancer.
However, she was recently approached by an unfamiliar profile on Facebook that made her aware of her naked photos in a Telegram group called ‘Images and Videos’. Those photos were accompanied by a link to her Facebook profile and personal information.
“[Hackers] took old photos of me, photos that are sacred to me, and they distributed them in sex groups with my personal contact information,” she told The Times of Israel. “They stole my privacy. They stole my body and [sense of] modesty. It feels like rape.”
The photographer who worked with Orit admitted that images of other models whose pictures he had taken were posted on Telegram. He suggested that the hackers tapped into his cloud account or the private photographers’ group of which he is a member, adding that the matter is being investigated.
Another woman, who asked to be called ‘Moran’, said she conducted an investigation of her own after learning about her nude photos emerging online. She found out that they were leaked by someone affiliated with Telegrass, a now-suspended Israeli drug-dealing network that worked using Telegram.
“They refused to talk to me unless it was done through a secret chat. Everything there works with bots. My [photos], specifically, were posted on a bot used by a [political] party,” she said.
“They threatened me and said there was no point in filing a police complaint because they [the police] weren’t going to do anything about it. Eventually, they agreed to remove my photos from some of the groups.”
According to The Times of Israel, the women whose photos were leaked are of all ages; some had their photos put up online as “revenge porn” and others were unknowingly filmed on hidden cameras or by partners.
It is understood that photos of the victims continue to appear online even after the arrest of the suspects, probably due to the efforts of their relatives or friends.
In a similar case in Singapore, police in October busted a chat group with more than 44,000 members that shared nude photos of women without their knowledge and consent, as well as was promoted sexual services and sexual enhancement drugs. Four people, including two teenagers, were charged over their role in the case.