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The internet has been all aflutter lately since news got around that naked photos of various female celebrities were circulating online due to the efforts of a hacker. How exactly did this happen? At least some of the blame seems to be pointed toward iCloud, Apple's online storage service. Apple says they've done an investigation on the matter, and they're now claiming that iCloud itself wasn't breached.
As it's been reported, naked photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Ariana Grande and other celebrities were unlawfully acquired by a hacker and shared online. In at least some cases, it seems the photos were lifted off of Apple's iCloud...
Which leads us to wonder just how this hacker obtained these photos. Was the breach at Apple or was this a matter of accounts being hacked? According to Apple's official statement on the matter, it's the latter:
After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet. None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud® or Find my iPhone. We are continuing to work with law enforcement to help identify the criminals involved. "
Apple goes on to advise people to enable two-step verification for their Apple ID, which requires the user to confirm their identity using another Apple device before they're allowed to alter account information or make app, music or iBook purchases on any new/unauthorized device.
The situation is disturbing enough on its own, for the major violation it is of these women's privacy. Beyond that, it causes us to wonder how secure our own data is when on the Cloud. Even if Apple's findings prove to be accurate, and this was very much a direct attack on specific celebrities' Apple accounts, it still calls to question how accessible iCloud data is to someone who wants it badly enough. This is especially relevant for those who are relying more and more on the Cloud to store their stuff.
Wait, what's the cloud?
For those who aren't sure what the Cloud actually is, from my basic-level knowledge of how it works, the cloud essentially a virtual storage space. Instead of filling up your computer or mobile device's hard drive with photos, music and other files that tend to pile up and take up a lot of hard drive space, you can store it online via the Cloud, which you can then access to retrieve said files when you need them. Saving space is one benefit, accessibility is another, as a cloud might allow a user to access files from multiple devices.
The cloud has proven to be especially useful for those who use their phones and other mobile devices more than they use a computer, if they even use a computer at all. Phones and tablets can only hold so much, after which you either have to delete files, transfer them to a computer or some other device, or store the content to the Cloud. That last option is convenient for those who want to save space but also have quick access to their files.
Ok, but what's iCloud?
In the case of Apple devices, Apple's storage service iCloud is a great convenience, particularly as it relates to cell phones. You log in with your apple ID when you set up your phone, and if you have contacts, photos, calendars, app data, etc backed up on iCloud, it updates your phone. Gone are the days when you have to use your old phone to retrieve your contacts and move everything to your new phone. This also allows Apple users to sync calendars and contacts over multiple Apple devices, iPad, IPhone, iMac, iEtc.
The down-side to this is obviously the matter of privacy. If you set iCloud to backup your photos, documents, contacts, and other data -- iPhone has separate iCloud settings for each option -- you're essentially putting those items out there onto the internet where they're supposed to be secure and only accessible to you with your login and password. But they're still out there. And as is evidently the case, it only takes a username and password to get to them.
So it's no surprise that Apple would be eager to get this matter straightened out, not only to ensure their users that their data is safe, but also to (hopefully) ensure that it actually is.