International Forecaster Weekly

Of Naked Stars and Naked Clouds

As most of the online world knows by now, this Labor Day weekend saw the release of dozens of provocative new photographs of naked celebrities gleaned from the stars' own smartphones.

James Corbett | September 3, 2014

When you're watching the newswires all day like I am, sometimes there are little synchronicities that happen that are just too delicious to ignore.


Case in point: last Saturday The Economist published a story about how businesses just aren't taking to the cloud like analysts had predicted. For those not in the know, “the cloud” refers to technology that allows businesses to lease data storage and applications from third parties. Instead of storing their information or programs locally, they pay the third party to host them on their own servers and connect to that information via the internet.

            Attempting to parse why companies have been so slow on the uptake with cloud computing, The Economist notes that some “are wary of entrusting sensitive data to another firm’s servers.” These fears are evidently not that serious, though; we are told in the very next sentence that “price cuts” are about to make cloud computing cheap enough to overcome such petty concerns.

            Meanwhile, less than 48 hours after the publication of that story another story was brewing that would underline that “quaint” concern of IT geeks in a most dramatic way. As most of the online world knows by now, this Labor Day weekend saw the release of dozens of provocative new photographs of naked celebrities gleaned from the stars' own smartphones. Lost under a barrage of sensationalist reporting of topless starlets and the FBI's pursuit of the hackers who purloined the images is a much, much bigger story. It seems that it was Apple's much-ballyhooed “iCloud” technology (which allows iPhone/iPad/iMac/iThing users to sync their personal data between devices by storing their information on Apple's own servers) that is to blame for the scandal. Although the details have yet to be fully divulged, it is speculated that hackers may have used a program that briefly appeared on Github (a site for sharing open source software) allowing users to run a “brute force” attack on Apple's iCloud servers. In other words, the hackers may simply have used their computers to “guess” the celebrities' passwords, much as you might “guess” a combination on a lock by trying each possible permutation of numbers one by one.

            The story must be extremely worrying for Apple in particular and the cloud industry in general (not to mention all of the users of these services). As the world has just discovered in the most attention-getting fashion possible, cloud technology is inherently unsafe, and any data stored in the cloud is vulnerable to being hacked at some point.



            This is not news, of course. Critics have long pointed out that the cloud is a personal privacy nightmare just waiting to happen. Even assuming that the corporations you entrust with your data are trustworthy (and that's a large assumption in and of itself), it is by no means guaranteed that your data is safe with them. Now that the cloud's vulnerabilities have just been exposed to the general public, however, a backlash against the technology seems inevitable.

            On the other hand, one can never discount the willful ignorance of the public (or the markets). So far the headlines continues to center on the prurient details of which celebrity's naked photos were leaked and how the hackers are being tracked down, while completely ignoring Apple's culpability in the scandal. In fact, as of press time Apple's stock is actually up $1 on the day to $103.48.

            Kirsten Dunst, for her part, is having none of it. One of the victims of the leak, she took to Twitter with a simple message: “Thanks iCloud” that has so far been retweeted and favorited over 12,000 times. It seems others may be catching on to what this scandal is really all about.

            For those who are just beginning to understand the implications of storing their personal data in the “iCloud” or similar such services, the take away message seems obvious: don't store naked pictures of yourself on someone else's servers unless you want those pictures leaked to the internet. Once Joe and Jane Sixpack have that piece of wisdom under their belt, perhaps we can even tackle the larger question of what it means that the NSA already has most of this information anyway.