News

Modern convenience vs. privacy

What the celebrity iCloud leak means for the rest of us

By: JORDAN RAE LUCAS

Columnist

j.r.lucas.17@gmail.com

Hollywood starlets, as a group, are not strangers to the occasional private photograph being made public. Over the holiday weekend, the entertainment community was rocked by not a leak, but a flash flood of illicit pictures. Jennifer Lawrence, as well as several other young female celebrities, fell victim to the scandal when their Apple iCloud accounts were hacked.

It did not take long for the high-profile nude photos to garner attention. Starting in the back alleys of the web on forum sites like Reddit and 4chan, the images quickly filled mainstream social media. In the digital age, the rapid escalation and widespread nature of this particular problem is not surprising. Of course racy photos of beautiful and famous women are going to circulate quickly.

It is very easy for the average person to dismiss this sort of scandal, thinking, “It could never happen to me!” This particular invasion of privacy is not just a question of how much privacy someone living in the public eye should expect. Nor is it just a feminist debate about what a young woman should be able to do in her own home without being exploited.

While both of these are valid points brought to light by the scandal, there is the all-encompassing question regarding how much trust we put in technology. All of the women who had photos leaked used Apple’s iCloud storage service. “The Cloud,” for the uninitiated, is a kind of external memory bank that can be used to store photos and other documents independent of a physical device. Several other companies like Verizon and Amazon offer this service as well.

The best way I can think to describe iCloud is like a safety deposit box at a bank. A person using the system has, to their belief, stored their valuables in a safe place with hundreds of other people. The individual “boxes” keep everyone’s valuables separated but they are all in one big “vault.” This way, your precious photographs and important documents will be saved in the event of a house fire or, going off-metaphor, a tragic iPhone drowning.

What happens when the vault is compromised, though? Or, in the case of Apple’s lax security policies, the vault is left open? Every security box in that vault is at risk.

In a press release from Apple, the computer giant tried to comfort their users by explaining the situation, stating, “Certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions.”

This is where most stop reading, feeling that sense of relief once again that it could never happen to them.

The release goes on to say that the investigation of the so-called “hacked” accounts revealed there was no actual breach of security or breakdown in protocol. This is less comforting. As of Sept. 5, Apple has announced plans to heighten security on all Apple accounts in an effort to prevent this from happening again. Specifically, there is talk of putting a limit on the number of failed password attempts allowed when attempting to log into an account. This missing feature was the open bank vault.

With the system allowing anyone to enter any combination of username and password an unlimited number of times, the hacker who obtained these pictures was able to pick the locks on the safety deposit boxes. Just because they were targeting specific people doesn’t mean they wouldn’t open everyone else’s box just in case. This kind of hack is less likely to occur for the average Apple user than it would be for a celebrity, but it is not impossible. Just because a person doesn’t have their own Wikipedia page doesn’t make it impossible to find their birthday or pet’s name or any other common password.

For the sake of this column, I will assume that the only pictures any IU South Bend students have taken with their phones have been of kittens and children’s birthday parties. Nothing to hide! So why is this still an important topic? Right before the iCloud breach, rumors started circulating that the iPhone 6, due out sometime this month, would offer users a way to abandon those cumbersome wallets of old.

According to an article on wired.com, in addition to storing those precious family photos, the newest iPhone may also store all your credit card information. It is said that the phone itself will have technology that allows it to be scanned at registers. This information would presumably be stored in the same way all other data is stored by Apple account holders. Not only is privacy being threatened, so is personal and financial security.

Maybe that crazy uncle who kept his life savings stuffed in his mattress was onto something.

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