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Never mind the iPhone 6: Apple must explain iCloud hack debacle

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by Brian Fagioli, 01 Sep 2014Features
Never mind the iPhone 6: Apple must explain iCloud hack debacle

Sometimes I wish the internet could just be a place to exchange wholesome information, such as cooking recipes and tips on Linux, but sadly, there is a dark side. There are deviant people lurking on the web doing all sorts of horrible things.

At the weekend, a hacker leaked the private pictures and videos (nude and semi-nude) of many celebrities, and they have spread across the net. For these celebrities, who are real people, I am sure it has been a very trying time; their privacy has been destroyed and I offer my sympathies.

For the many people (if they can be called that) viewing and spreading the pictures, the occasion has been dubbed "The Fappening"; a way to proclaim their... ahem, enjoyment... of the photos. At least one celebrity has confirmed that the photos of her are legit and not fakes.

Read more: iCloud hacking scandal sees naked photos of A-list celebrities leaked on 4chan

If you choose to search for, and view, these leaked photos, I am not going to judge you for eating the forbidden fruit. However, I won't even mention the victims' names to help you look. Quite frankly, my concern is not just for the celebrities, but more for the public as a whole.

You see, allegedly, the hacker was able to obtain this treasure-trove of private photos by hacking into iCloud. For the many people who were considered paranoid about distrusting the cloud, this justifies their concerns. While I don't think it is time for people to run away from the cloud overall, I do think people should stop using iCloud until Apple comments on the situation.

Apple is a very private company that is also seemingly selective regarding which members of the press they choose to communicate with. So I am not surprised that since the news of the hacking broke, which was many hours ago, it has offered no statement on the situation. I have emailed the company, but am not hopeful for a response.

Related: Apple's PR machine and the quest for a balanced perspective

Right now, the company is surely putting a lot of effort into its big 9 September iPhone unveiling, but I would imagine many iCloud users would prefer the focus to be aimed at security instead. Oh, the iPhone has a bigger screen? A better camera? What does that matter if consumers cannot be sure that their data is secure.

Keep in mind, that while the media focuses on the fact that the photos are of the nude variety, it is much more than that. Even if the leaked photos were of people fully clothed, that doesn't change the fact that their privacy was violated. Even if you use the cloud to only store tame family photos, let's say, your family eating turkey on Thanksgiving, those are still private. You wouldn't want some creep looking at your family moments without your permission.

So, is it fair to call out Apple and iCloud, but not the other services, like Google Drive or Microsoft's OneDrive? Yes and no. Long-term, consumers need to be aware of the potential dangers of storing information in the cloud – regardless of which service. However, short-term, the focus is rightfully on Apple, as its service is the alleged source of the leak. In other words, if you get food poisoning at a restaurant, you look for answers from that restaurant, and not the restaurant industry. Right now, apples are tainted with salmonella.

So, until Apple gives an explanation, can we trust iCloud? Tell me in the comments.

Update 1: Security researcher Graham Cluley has chimed in, saying "There have been claims that iCloud may be involved, but it's tricky to confirm even if all of the celebrities affected use Apple devices. [...] Even if they were all using iCloud, it's possible that there isn't a security hole in iCloud itself but rather that celebrities had not properly secured their accounts with -- for instance -- hard-to-guess passwords". The story was updated to reflect that iCloud may not have been hacked, or that it is the only cloud service involved in the photo theft.

Update 2: According to the Associated Press, with rumors swirling that iCloud-hacking may be the source of the leak, Apple is now investigating the leaked photos and videos. Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris is quoted as saying, "we take user privacy very seriously and are actively investigating this report".

Read more: A closer look at the Gmail smartphone app hack and its wider implications

Images: iLight foto / Shutterstock

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