Photograph Leak Demonstrates Importance of Good Hygiene

September 3, 2014
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By Shannon Perry

Over the Labor Day weekend, a heap of sensitive pictures of celebrities found their way onto online forums 4chan and Reddit, and the leak has since made headlines across the country. The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal have dedicated front-page links to the story, in a press wave that will contribute to the public’s increasing exposure to cybersecurity concepts and the growing importance of information security.

The hackers who obtained the nude photographs have not been identified, and the methods by which the photographs were stolen remain in dispute. Several news sources have reported that the photos were stolen from iCloud, Apple’s cloud service for storing media and documents. Although iCloud has been blamed for that attack on Twitter, Apple has since released a public statement denying responsibility for the breach.

“After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet,” the statement reads, “None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud® or Find my iPhone.” According to Apple’s investigation, the photo leak is not indicative of a software vulnerability but is a result of human error – an easily guessed password, for example.

An interesting aside, Apple stock dipped significantly on Wednesday, following more publicity of the photograph scandal.

The scandal reflects several technology trends. First, the extent of interaction between human beings and cyber systems is enormous, as we increasingly put our ideas, photos, and actions online for other people to see. The lines between physical systems and cyber systems have never been so blurred, and the interaction receives little attention in the absence of problems or breaches.

Second, that extreme level of interaction poses huge challenges to privacy. By storing or transmitting personal photos, controversial opinions, or other sensitive information digitally and in the Cloud, we expose ourselves to the possibility of suffering from our information being stolen. The sensitivity of that information is especially important for celebrities, who already receive so much attention from the media.

Third, the amount of exposed celebrities in this scandal is indicative of the fact that so many Americans do not take information security seriously enough. Nearly every adult in the United States possesses information that would prove valuable if stolen – credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, date of birth, etc. – yet many of us still do not make the effort to employ basic defenses like difficult passwords or hard-to-guess security questions.

Many photos have already been released, and several media sources have suggested that more are on the way. Hopefully this leak will encourage Americans young and old to consider taking additional steps to protect their digital information – even if they do not have nudes stored in the Clouds.