One thing you’ve got going for you when it comes to falling victim to iCloud hackers: no one is interested in your nude pictures.
Sunday night, a hacker posted online stolen nude photos of 100 celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lawrence, Rhianna and Avril Lavigne, obtained after he or she got into their iCloud accounts without them knowing. Both Apple and the FBI have launched investigations into the hacking.
It turns out there’s an underground group of people who thrive on breaking into celebrities’ accounts, stealing the contents, and sharing or selling racy pictures among themselves online.
What is iCloud? It’s an Apple service, launched in 2011, which automatically backs up users’ photos and other information in cyberspace, allowing them to access it on a range of platforms, from phones to computers and tablets, wherever they go, with a username and password. Android phones have a similar service, and there are at least a dozen other services available online, including Dropbox.
You know how when you go to email or tweet a photo from your iPhone, it asks you to choose from your “Camera Roll” or your “Photo Stream”? The camera roll consists of photos saved directly on your phone; pictures in your photo stream have been uploaded to iCloud. You may have thought you deleted them long ago, but nope — there they are.
“If you set (the service), it means that every photo that you take is going to be uploaded to your online or iCloud account, and stored on another computer somewhere,” exp-lains Lyle Wetsch, social media expert and MUN professor. “A benefit is that if your phone gets stolen, you’ll still have all your pictures.”
A drawback is you could be hacked — but Wetsch says if you look at the situation realistically, there’s no need to be scared of the cloud.
“The important thing to remember is a bystander on the street is not going to be a target for these people, because nobody really cares about pictures of dogs and cats,” he says. “There’s a market for nude pictures of celebrities; there’s not really a market for nude pictures of Bill from Carbonear.”
While it’s still unclear how the hacker was able to get into the celebrities’ accounts, reports suggest it could have been a result of “social engineering” — techniques to get a person’s Apple ID, username or password based on other information, like a date of birth, mother’s maiden name, friends’ names and so on. It’s relatively easy stuff to find out about a celebrity who is open about their life on social media, but let’s face it, you’ve got to have a whole lot of spare time on your hands.
“(Hackers) will go in and put in what they think is an email for the account, and will put in any password. If it comes up and says it’s not a valid account, they’ll go, ‘OK, that’s the wrong email.’ If they do find that it’s a valid account, then it’s a matter of figuring out what the password is,” Wetsch says. “There are groups of people that all they do is type in emails that they think may belong to celebrities.”
The best — and easiest — way to protect yourself is to use a complex password, so not the word “Password” or “1234,” which are (believe it or not) common.
“A good password is one that is not really words, it’s mixtures of letters and numbers and symbols and symbols that are not really identifiable, so not a name or a birthdate or your kids’ birthdays backwards or anything,” Wetsch says. “The more random your password is, the more difficult it’s going to be to guess it.”
Even if you are a nude-selfie-taker, there’s no reason to believe iCloud or similar online storage services are unsafe, Wetsch says, if you’ve got a good password.
Still not convinced? Here’s how to deactivate the cloud on your iPhone:
• Go to “Settings”
• Select “iCloud”
• Slide the circles to “Off” for “Photo Stream,” “Mail,” “Documents and Data” and whatever other applications you choose.