The Day the Technology and Entertainment News Headlines Were the Same: Hackers and Nude Celebs

8 Sep

You will no doubt have seen by now the news that naughty photos of celebrities have appeared on the internet.

It’s the story that has everything – cyber security, the dangers of the cloud, online safety and a little bit of smut thrown in for good measure.

And debates have raged about how the blame is shared. There’s the hacker, obviously. Do the celebrities take some blame for both their pictures’ existence and presence in the cloud? What about Apple, was iCloud’s security at fault? Where does looking at the pictures fall on the moral spectrum? This is the motherload.

Hacker word cloud concept illustrationWe’ll have to wait and see what happens to the hacker, and debate continues over iCloud security, even as Apple announces greater security measures. The celebrities certainly weren’t following good security practice, but then, that really isn’t their field.

For me, the most shocking aspect of the story was how many people had these photos stored in the cloud. I remember thinking I must have woken up in a parallel universe where that’s a normal thing to do!

This is perhaps a good time to remind you to use a good password, or at least not a terrible one. It is also very much worth enabling two-factor authentication, which makes it very difficult for someone to access your account without physical access to your phone. Oh, and don’t forget to put a PIN lock on your phone.

When Nexor’s young professionals go into schools to teach online safety as part of the Cyber Champions scheme, this news story is pretty much exactly what we are trying to avoid. We cover passwords and PINs and two-factor authentication. We cover stories like Amanda Todd’s suicide, trying to put the message across that once a picture is on the internet, it’s very hard to take it off. We cover sexting, and talk about why Snapchat is not as safe as you think.

So how has this story come about? How have the passwords of so many been apparently deduced, how did so many not have two-factor authentication, why were so many even taking these pictures let alone storing these pictures in the cloud?

At this point, I’m happy to resign to the fact that sexting is apparently a thing that people do these days. I’m getting old. My hairline isn’t what it used to be, my back sometimes aches, and I don’t understand what’s cool anymore. It happens to all of us. So fine. I think taking naughty pictures of yourself is a really bad idea and I would advise against doing it at all, but I’m starting to feel like that’s today’s equivalent of teaching only abstinence-based safe sex to teenagers.

So let’s get real. What I suspect has happened here is that regular phone users, who are not experts in cyber security, have sexted one another in the most obvious way: taken a photo and sent it.

Unfortunately, modern smartphones like to automatically back-up photos to the cloud, which is probably not what the celebrities expected. Can you blame them for that? The most convenient and obvious way to do something was the worst possible way to do it from a security standpoint.

So what can we do? How do we make the obvious way to do it at least a little bit more secure? Even Snapchat would be a huge improvement, are people not aware of it? The key to avoiding headlines like this in the future is to make the security easier. Two-factor authentication is only good if people use it. How can we make the easiest use case a more secure one?

Perhaps phones could have a bit of software that detects saucy photos and manages them a bit more delicately. Who wants to mock up some job descriptions? “Tester needed to take increasingly saucy selfies”…

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