Apple iCloud security leak sparks media storm

The internet is awash with hundreds of private images of celebrities after hackers broke into their Apple iCloud accounts this week. Who is responsible for ensuring our data is safe online?

Images of glamorous celebrities posing on red carpets and magazine covers are nothing new. But celebrity photos of a different nature caused a media storm this week, when hundreds of private and intimate photos of female stars taken by themselves, or trusted friends and lovers, were splashed all over the internet by hackers.

Pictures and videos of celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence — star of the ‘Hunger Games’ franchise — Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Selena Gomez, were posted on 4chan, a forum where users can share pictures and videos anonymously without needing to create a user account.

The images were obtained from the actresses’ iCloud accounts — the tech giant Apple’s cloud storage device — which automatically uploads pictures from account-holders’ iPhones, iPads and Macbooks.

Apple has denied responsibility, arguing that the photos were not leaked due to a security breach, but because hackers broke into individual accounts using research, persistence and luck to guess celebrity passwords and security questions. Apple is urging users to adopt a two-factor verification to better safeguard their private data.

But the damage has already been done. Commentators are particularly angry that the hackers targeted mostly female stars. ‘This is about women being shamed, and objectified, and treated like property,’ wrote one, arguing that those who view the images are contributing to the violation of privacy of these women.

But who are these hackers, and why do they do what they do? Experts say that the majority are simply troublemakers who hack for the ‘lulz’; meaning for the pure joy, or thrill, of causing online chaos.

But the growing amount of important data on the internet has attracted organised criminal hackers who can make a fortune by selling information or images for a price, such as those behind this most recent leak. Many say the problem is only getting worse.

Gathering storm clouds

Apple must take responsibility for this outrageous leak, some say. Other organisations, like banks, do far more to ensure the security of their customers, by sending customers hardware and letters, and inviting them into their branches. Although authentication measures are costly to implement, Apple should do more to reassure its customers. It is not acceptable that so many users have had their privacy invaded.

But the response from other corners has been less sympathetic. People should not store anything of a sensitive nature online and expect it to be safe. We are far too trusting of technology and we often take it for granted. We must all take more personal responsibility for our data and accept that the internet is far from infallible.

You Decide

  1. Is it up to companies like Apple to protect us online, or are we responsible for what we share on the internet?
  2. Does the internet bring out the worst in humans?

Activities

  1. Design a poster with five rules for staying safe online.
  2. Research some prominent examples of hackers. Identify their aims and motives and decide whether they have had a negative or positive impact on the internet.

Some People Say...

“Hacking is cool.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is all of this illegal?
Yes — hacking is a serious crime and can result in a hefty prison sentence. The FBI is currently tracking down the hacker in this case, and anyone caught posting the images will be prosecuted. A number of Twitter users have already had their accounts suspended for sharing the images. Viewing and downloading some of the images could even be classed as child abuse, due to the age of the celebrities at the time the photos were taken.
How can I keep my online data safe?
Experts are urging Apple users to turn off automatic cloud backups on their phone and to create passwords which contain letters, numbers and symbols. You can protect your photos on Facebook by adjusting your privacy settings and use USB sticks to transport your data. Head to Expert Links for more advice.

Word Watch

4chan
4chan was founded in 2003 and is regarded by some as the source of some of the internet’s most popular cultural trends, such as the ‘lolcat’ meme. It boasts one billion posts and is capable of triggering viral campaigns in days. It is believed the political hacking group Anonymous originated from the site too.
Icloud
There are more than 800 million iCloud accounts globally. By default, every photo taken on an iPhone is uploaded to the iCloud, but it is possible to turn off automatic sharing by adjusting the settings.
Price
The hacker behind the leak allegedly tried to sell the images for $100 each.
Worse
Major breaches of security have become more common in the past two years, as hackers become more sophisticated. Earlier this year, Microsoft fixed a security breach that had left millions of Internet Explorer users vulnerable to hackers.

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