Trust Issues: The 4Chan Photo Leak, and What We Need to Learn From It

Sep 2, 2014

Maaz Khan

Maaz Khan started off teaching himself photography with a disposable Kodak camera he got for his 7th birthday. His main weapons of choice are now the 5D Mark II, and an LG G2 when mobility calls.

Trust Issues: The 4Chan Photo Leak, and What We Need to Learn From It

Sep 2, 2014

Maaz Khan

Maaz Khan started off teaching himself photography with a disposable Kodak camera he got for his 7th birthday. His main weapons of choice are now the 5D Mark II, and an LG G2 when mobility calls.

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Louis CK did a bit on Jimmy Kimmel Live, once, where he spoke about Cloud services, and just how absurd it sounds to pay someone you don’t know to look after your personal pictures.

That video’s been getting reposted pretty frequently since what happened over the weekend, and it’s no wonder why. For those who don’t know by now, last Saturday the private pictures of over 10 different celebrities were leaked onto the internet by an anonymous user on 4Chan. According to the running stories, the pictures may have all came from iCloud, and someone found a way to hack into the servers. Literally hours after appearing on 4Chan, those pictures were on the front page of Reddit; twenty-four hours later, the FBI released a statement declaring that the leaker will be brought to justice.

Normally, the fact that a celebrity’s naked pictures found their way onto the internet shouldn’t ever be regarded as news, and it shouldn’t be considered news here, either. It shouldn’t be newsworthy that TMZ offered a six-digit price to the person leaking the pictures, and it shouldn’t be newsworthy that 4Chan is a shocking website.

What’s shocking here isn’t the fact that there’s NSFW pictures of Jennifer Lawrence on the internet; it’s the fact that the iCloud accounts of ten different celebrities were hacked. What we don’t know is whether those celebrities were the only people on that list. We’re completely uncertain about whether our accounts are just as easily unsecure, and we don’t even know what’s going to be done about it. What’s newsworthy here should be the fact that our personal information isn’t safe at all on cloud servers, and that we need to stop relying on them.

The FBI isn’t investigating the security of these services; they’re there to catch the evil man that leaked the pictures of the many innocent “high-profile individuals” they promised to help out in their official statement. In terms of online news, there’s definitely outlets out there raising the issue of user privacy on cloud services, but the hottest news being covered by TV stations right now is the fact that everyone can see Jennifer Lawrence and Mila Kunis in compromising situations.

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And if that’s not what they’re talking about, they’re trying to explain what 4Chan is to an audience averaging at 65 years and older without a clue of what they’re even talking about.

The bottom line is that this was a massive leak of personal information, but it would barely be making any headlines at all if it wasn’t for the fact that these leaks were nude photos of female celebrities. Right now, what we should be remembering is that there’s a line when it comes to how much we can trust cloud services. And what crosses that line is trusting it with information as personal to us as those pictures were to their owners. We need to remember that Dropbox may be great for putting up a few PDFs of our class notes so we can access them from our phones, but that our pictures are probably best kept in an external drive. Along with the fact that missing even one payment in our subscriptions to these services comes the risk of losing our personal information altogether, we need to stay aware of the fact that it isn’t safe in the first place. That means ignoring anything Apple has to say about the matter, either.

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Maaz Khan

Maaz Khan

Maaz Khan started off teaching himself photography with a disposable Kodak camera he got for his 7th birthday. His main weapons of choice are now the 5D Mark II, and an LG G2 when mobility calls.

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6 responses to “Trust Issues: The 4Chan Photo Leak, and What We Need to Learn From It”

  1. Michael Williams Avatar
    Michael Williams

    Cloud storage is NEVER a good idea. I have been discouraging its use for years.

  2. Some way of life. Avatar
    Some way of life.

    Are you a celebrity? Do you take nude selfies? No? Then nobody cares about your photos in the Cloud. I bet these celebrities used single factor authentication with weak passwords that had never been changed. There is nothing wrong with Cloud services if you use them responsibly. In fact, I recommend them for people who I know won’t make their own backups and store them offsite. I just recommend that they also use a strong password, enable multifactor authentication, disable automatic sharing, and remember that they shouldn’t upload anything they would not want their mother or an enemy/competitor to see. That last part is important. If you absolutely can’t resist taking nude photos of yourself, use a camera that doesn’t have an Internet connection!

    1. sircracked Avatar
      sircracked

      “Then nobody cares about your photos in the Cloud”
      Actually, this, this RIGHT HERE, is the main danger of storing photos (or anything important and/or irreplaceable) in the cloud for most users. Famous people and large businesses have the opposite issue, and, it’s very splashy when things go wrong for them, so, that gets addressed. But if you’re an ordinary user, stuff you put in the cloud can disappear at a moment’s notice.

      The tradeoff here is, are you the sort of computer user who is incapable of maintaining your own systems in such a way that your photos are safeguarded? Does the risk of some inept move on your part outweigh their apathy? Because carelessness can destroy a file just as quickly as ignorance can. Ultimately, if they delete or lose your stuff, and you aren’t big enough to make a real stink about it (and most of us aren’t), why should they care? They have no real motivation at the individual level beyond pure altruism, especially for the free cloud space. And, at least if you do it to yourself, you were at least in control of your own destiny.

      If you can manage a RAID array, an incremental backup system, and a filesystem like ZFS, cloud storage is a hideous nest of spiders. If you think the internet is a series of tubes, refer to the box that you plug everything into as the “hard drive”, and believe that regular reminders to backup are to help ensure you’re not too close to the screen, then, cloud storage is a godsend. Anything in-between those two extremes, probably need to seriously weigh the pros and cons.

      1. Some way of life. Avatar
        Some way of life.

        As an IT professional I can assure you that the average person cannot manage their own local backups or redundant storage arrays. They rarely, if ever, connect their smartphones to a computer to back them up. I help people with broken devices every week, and the first question I ask is “do you have a backup.” The response is almost always negative. The next question I ask is “do you use any Cloud based services like iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. ?” Many do, so at least some of their data can be recovered if other efforts to access the broken or lost device fail. I have seen the Cloud help far more than it has hurt. Of course I would never recommend a single backup strategy, but I have been trying to get people to perform basic backups to external storage for 15 years.

        You are also forgetting that for most people the Cloud is more for sharing and for the convenience of syncing data between devices. The problem is that this service comes with some potential downsides, but most people throw caution to the wind. I try to at least preach the importance of multi-factor authentication and using unique strong passwords. You are correct that unfortunately it takes a high profile security issue (either affecting a large enough number or affecting important enough people) to get companies to be more accountable for these services. That said I feel many are reasonably safe as long as you maintain your own redundant backups and keep your most sensitive information (and your naked bits) out of the Cloud.

  3. Doc Pixel Avatar
    Doc Pixel

    And then we have a DYI (supposedly) PHOTOGRAPHY blog telling people about an event that they themselves do not understand how it happened… do not update to take into consideration all of the news that has come out (a many month job by a large underground group of hackers targeting ONLY those celebrities)… tells everyone to disregard what Apple says (replace with Microsoft or Google or Target or Sony because YOU KNOW BETTER)… and basically diffuse the issue by dropping their 2 cents as a “concerned media and info source” to hopefully make coin (ad clicks) off of other people’s misfortune.

    The cloud isn’t bad. All technology is bad, if you can’t think how and why you’re using it, take a moment to learn the basics, let alone do your best to keep what you deem private secure. That in the face of a world full of people that just might hate you for where you live and want to make life tough for you, let alone see some “bits” at the same time for jollies.

    BTW: that goes for cameras, gear and software as well… so yes, I believe I’m on topic.

  4. Michael Keshen Avatar
    Michael Keshen

    I think that we really need better education about how the Internet works and what happens to your information when you put it into a computer (or phone or whatever other device you’re using). Most people tend to think that they put something in THEIR iCloud account, THEIR Facebook message, THEIR Snapchat, etc., but don’t consider the fact that while it is their picture/document/and so on, it is now living on someone else’s servers, which is stored on a hard drive somewhere in physical space. It’s dangerous to think that “well, it’s Apple and so I’m sure they’ve made the system really secure.”

    I’ve seen some arguments (such as here: http://mashable.com/2014/09/03/sexting-privacy/) where people have been saying that we shouldn’t be bullied into not sexting or whatever and we really need to prevent people from hacking accounts in the first place. While I agree with that, it’s not very practical in the meantime. I think it’s better to err on the side of caution and not put compromising information into places owned by someone else. If I hid my house key under my neighbour’s doormat, could I really be upset if it went missing? Not exactly the same thing, but that’s how I think of it at least.