Leak of celebrity photos has implications for us all

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 September, 2014, 5:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 September, 2014, 8:38am

Photos of celebrities in various states of undress are nothing new, nor is the internet, yet an adolescent level of maturity takes over whenever there is another online leak of nude pictures. Salacious curiosity was bound to be sparked by the postings of images of dozens of actresses and models, Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton among them, at the weekend. But the pictures were not released to give publicity to new projects or resuscitate flagging careers; they were stolen from personal accounts by hackers. Crimes have taken place that have violated dignity and privacy, highlighting the need for all of us, stars included, to pay greater attention to technology and cybersecurity.

Precisely how the photos were stolen is not certain. Most were on smartphones and tablets, and cloud accounts could have been involved. An initial investigation by Apple determined that its iCloud storage system had not been hacked. The company has so far found that some of the celebrities' accounts had been compromised by targeted attacks on user names, passwords and security questions. Tech firms have large teams of engineers dedicated to keeping systems safe. But the job of security is not only for such companies - users also have an obligation to protect their personal information.

Many users are probably not aware that data is being stored in the cloud or how the service works. Syncing a device like a smartphone to the cloud creates two copies of a file and often deleting it requires both to be removed. Passwords are another problem, with hacking made easier if the same one is used for a device and the cloud. Just as with locking a house when leaving it, devices and on-line accounts need to be robustly secured.

No online site or service can claim to be hacker-proof. Bugs can be found in programming code, while people can be tricked. Understanding how the latest technology works can be challenging. Hacking is a serious crime and whoever stole and distributed the celebrity photos has to be caught and appropriately punished. But the incident is also reason to pay closer attention to our own internet habits and security.