In a story from Fox News, the unnamed Russian said he had discovered 200 files on a P2P site based in his country, before piecing together the data to create a digital copy of the magazine's forthcoming issue.
It is not clear how the files came to be on the server. They could have been hacked in the publishing chain, leaked by someone without authority or - and this is a theory that suits the Internet age - deliberately released to create extra publicity.
So what's the truth and has it been airbrushed?
"Someone took photos of Lindsay Lohan's pictorial in an advanced copy of the January/February issue. They posted the photos online without permission. We are not releasing any official images or information until Dec. 15," Playboy said in a statement to FoxNews.com.
"Because of the interest & the Internet leak, we're releasing the Lindsay Lohan issue early," Playboy’s Hugh Hefner was later quoted as saying in an apparent change of tack.
The leaked images appear to cast Lohan - an actress and singer more famous for her off-screen troubles - in the mould of Marilyn Monroe. The iconic US actress (Monroe, that is, not Lohan) famously appeared on the cover of the first ever issue of Playboy magazine in 1953.
The affair has left security watchers feeling uncomfortable. Was this a spectacular leak of a controversial magazine seen in some quarters as an anachronism or a gigantic news manipulation with hacking as the theme?
Let's offer the benefit of the doubt here, despite appearances. As everyone knows, hacking is a serious business not to be spoofed.
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