Science & technology
Celebrity hack puts focus on Internet 'cloud'
Publish Date: Sep 03, 2014
Celebrity hack puts focus on Internet 'cloud'
  • mail
  • img
newvision

WASHINGTON - If actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton knew little about the Internet "cloud," they would not be alone, but the recent theft of their intimate photos has served as a wake-up call.

Hackers have boasted of stealing nude pictures of dozens of celebrities -- including singer Avril Lavigne, actress Hayden Panettiere and United States soccer star Hope Solo.

And, while some of the pictures appear to have been faked, several A-listers denounced an invasion of their privacy after pictures popped up on anonymous online bulletin boards.
 

What is the Internet cloud?

The cloud refers to storage of data on large-scale shared servers rather than on users' own home hardware.

It allows people to access their documents and pictures remotely on multiple devices such as PCs, smartphones and tablets from anywhere with an Internet connection.

Hackers appeared to access photos stored in Apple's service called iCloud, which backs up photos and other documents from iPhones. As a result, the private pictures of the female celebrities became public and spread across social media, starting with the image-sharing service 4chan.

Apple, in its first public statement on the incident, said celebrity accounts were compromised in a "targeted attack" to gain passwords, but maintained that it found no breach of the iCloud or other Apple systems.

What is in the cloud?

People can choose to back up pictures, videos and other files in the cloud. In some cases smartphones and other devices will do this by default -- a fact not all users are aware of.

"Many iPhone owners are possibly oblivious to the fact that every time they take a photo, it is invisibly and silently uploaded to iCloud in the background," says computer security consultant Graham Cluley in a blog post.

The private pictures of Lawrence, Upton and others appeared to have been stored in these cloud servers, even if they were deleted from the phones or other devices used to take the pictures.

Is the cloud secure?

Major services like Apple's iCloud and Google Drive use encryption to secure data. But Rob VandenBrink at the SANS Internet Storm Center said a flaw in Apple's "Find My iPhone" app lacked protection against "brute force attacks" from hackers.

"And of course once an account password is successfully guessed, all iCloud data for that account is available to the attackers," VandenBrink said in a blog post.

"So no rocket science, no uber hacking skills. Just one exposed attack surface, basic coding skills and some persistence."

Are passwords involved?

Because many people use easy-to-guess passwords like "123456" and reuse them across multiple services, hackers often can gain access with little difficulty.

Rik Ferguson at the security firm Trend Micro said attackers could have used the "I forgot my password" link for Apple accounts.

"The peril in this for celebrities is that much of their personal information is already online and a security question such as 'Name of my first pet' may be a lot less secret for a celebrity that it is for you and I," Ferguson says.

A better system is to activate two-factor authentication, which sends an additional code to a predetermined email or phone.

Are there other vulnerabilities?

An old technique used by hackers known as "phishing" can get a user to hand over a password voluntarily. This often begins with an email which says an account has been compromised and requests that the user log in via a link.

Symantec security response manager Satnam Narang said his firm has been warning about fake emails or SMS messages claiming to come from Apple technical support.

The comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted recently: "I got a text from apple privacy security saying my iTunes id has been compromised -- HOW DO I KNOW THEYRE NOT THE SCAM? Help!"

Narang said these kinds of hacks are likely to continue because many people fall for the scams.

"Users should also be wary of emails or text messages claiming to be from Apple support, security or protection groups. Don't click on any links in these emails and never send your Apple ID credentials in a text message," he said.

Chris Morales at NSS Labs said Apple "is doing what everyone else in the industry is doing" to make its system easy to use, which also makes it easier to hack.

"The cloud is so convenient, so everybody is putting their whole lives in the cloud," he said.

The statements, comments, or opinions expressed through the use of New Vision Online are those of their respective authors, who are solely responsible for them, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff and management of New Vision Online.

New Vision Online reserves the right to moderate, publish or delete a post without warning or consultation with the author.Find out why we moderate comments. For any questions please contact digital@newvision.co.ug

  • mail
  • img
blog comments powered by Disqus
Also In This Section
Monica Lewinsky says she was cyber-bullying Patient Zero
Monica Lewinsky said she was one of the first victims of cyber-bullying, becoming "Patient Zero" after falling in love with Bill Clinton, as the former White House intern gave her first speech in 13 years...
Facebook sues lawyers over
Facebook sued lawyers who represented a man claiming he was entitled to a stake in the huge social network, saying they should have known he was a scam artist....
Twitter spices timelines with unasked-for tweets
BASED on a positive response from its tests, the popular one-to-many messaging service is inching toward the Facebook of using software to "curate" what users see based on their interests...
Twitter tweets start to sing
Twitter on Thursday began letting people instantly listen to music and other audio by clicking on tweets from the popular messaging service....
Smartphones cut into Google profit & share price
THE rise of smartphone use to access the Internet, and slowing clicks on ads, cut into profits by Google in the third quarter, the company has revealed...
Apple starts iPhone 6 sales in China
APPLE began selling its latest iPhone in China Friday, nearly a month after other major territories due to a licence delay by regulators...
Do Ugandan tycoons prepare their children to take over their business empires?
Yes
No
Can't Say
follow us
subscribe to our news letter