It was revealed over the weekend that compromising photos of numerous celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Rhianna, Kate Upton and others had been swiped and posted online, mostly on the 4Chan message boards. Hackers managed to get into victims' iCloud accounts through some type of vulnerability. Prior to the latest version of the iPhone, photos were not able to be synced across devices like phone numbers, emails and notes. Now, they are and these are the kinds of things that can happen.
And this was not some vindictive ex who decided the whole world should see his old girlfriend's boobs for spite. These were hackers who deliberately wormed their way into protected databases so they could exploit people, which is why no one should be blaming the victims. It's like blaming someone who got burglarized because he forgot to turn his alarm on. He should be able to leave his doors and windows wide open all day and night without incident because the thieves are the assholes here.
Having said that, this is a cautionary tale for anyone who has ever thought it was a good idea to text a naked photo to someone or have a Skype session that includes more than just talking. Even chat transcripts can be used against you, particularly when you are famous.
The first rule of thumb to follow when it comes to technology is don't put anything on any piece of technology you would be uncomfortable with the world accessing. This means credit card numbers, social security numbers, passwords, photos, videos...you name it. That is unless it is a reputable service with good protection in place. But even those can find themselves the victims of hackers.
And that brings us to Apple. If iCloud truly was to blame, this could be an issue that is deeper than just a security vulnerability. Those can be fixed. Holes can be closed. The problem is that Apple, while trying to make things "just work" often over simplifies a process in which decisions are made for users. When anyone sets up a new account with iCloud, the default for backing up is everything: calendars, contacts, notes, etc. Users have to manually select what they DON'T want stored in "the cloud." The average user probably thinks nothing of leaving the default settings intact.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Then there is the disposable nature of phones. Every time someone gets a new phone, the old one still contains information. Unless it is completely destroyed, that data remains dormant on the phone that has been discarded. But it doesn't take much of an effort to extract what can often be terribly private information. There are ways to wipe old phones, but my guess is very few go through with it.
Finally, there is password protection. The number of people who still use overly simple passwords for everything from social media to bank accounts is extremely high. There is no better first line of defense against hackers than a strong password, yet there are still plenty of people who use their birthday or the name of a child.
And while I am placing the vast majority of the blame at the feet of technology and those who would exploit it at the expense and embarrassment of others, let's not pretend that the very act of turning explicit images of yourself into ones and zeroes that can be transmitted across the planet via wireless technology is the best idea. People have every right to do what they want with their phones and computers without the worry that some jackass is going to break into their personal business.
But the next time you think it might be fun to send a snapshot of your business to your partner, consider the risk you are taking. If you are willing to risk the entire planet seeing what you are sending, go for it. If not, put down the phone and deliver the image in person.