The FBI is said to be closing in on a computer and phone hacking ring that is allegedly targeting Hollywood celebrities and stealing personal information and naked photos, before posting them online.
Agents believe that some 50 high-profile – exclusively female – actresses and musicians, including Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba and Miley Cyrus, have been targeted.
The cyber crimes were revealed this week when actress Vanessa Hudgens, star of High School Musical, met the FBI to discuss personal data and intimate pictures which had been hacked from her Gmail account.
Her lawyer, Christopher Wong, said: "Vanessa is deeply upset and angered that these old photos, which were taken years ago, continue to resurface.
"It is particularly disturbing that whoever got a hold of these private photos seems to be intent on illegally leaking them out over a long period of time.
"We are actively working with law enforcement to determine who is responsible and to hold them accountable for their actions."
Since then, it has been reported that 26-year-old Johansson had a naked picture lifted from her iPhone.
Former Dawson's Creek star Busy Phillips, Buffy the Vampire Slayer actress Emma Caulfield, Addison Timlin from Californication, Heroes star Ali Larter and singer and actress Renee Olstead are also listed among the females targeted in the scheme.
Website TMZ.com reported yesterday that the hacking ring also includes politicians and sports stars.
"The cyber-crooks currently have 100 active email addresses of celebrities, politicians and sports stars.
"We do not know the identity of the sports stars or politicians, but they are all high-profile," an unnamed source told the website.
While some of the photos have been offered to celebrity sites for money, the primary motivation for the hackers is reportedly the "thrill" of hacking into the personal accounts of their famous victims.
In December, near-naked photographs of singer Christina Aguilera were shared online. A representative said the images were "illegally obtained by a hacker".
And last year German investigators accused a pair of alleged hackers of breaking into the online accounts of singers including Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake, using malware to pilfer photos, financial details and unreleased songs. The two investigations are not thought to be related.
Computer security consultant Carole Theriault likened the hackers' behaviour to "digital graffiti".
She said: "No one should have this happen. It's upsetting on an emotional and a social level – it really sucks."Reuse content