It's all over the news: Somebody hacked into the iCloud accounts of Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and other female celebrities and posted their nude selfies out on the Internet for the entire world to see. Now, this sort of activity is not just an invasion of privacy; it's also theft, and whoever did it (if he gets caught) could face some serious jail time.
But the fact remains that the hacker did do it. Somehow, he was able to access these celebrities' private iCloud accounts, where all the photos and files from their iPhones are automatically backed up to and stored. Just how did this character break into these private accounts? And how safe are your smartphone photos?
Where Are Your Digital Photos Stored?
Just about everyone these days uses their smartphones to take and share digital photos. These photos are stored on your smartphone, of course, but also end up in lots of other different places.
For example, any smartphone can back up all your photos to your desktop computer. This may happen automatically when you physically connect your phone to your PC, or you may have to initiate the backup manually. Apple's iPhone goes one step further, activating an automatic wireless backup whenever your phone is on the same WiFi network as your computer. In addition, your iPhone may back up or transfer your photos to other Apple devices in your household, including an Apple TV unit, if you have one.
So right away you see that your photos are spread out all over the house, not just on your phone but also on your computer and other devices. But the photographic migration doesn't stop there; most smartphones are configured by default to back up your photos online. This type of online backup is referred to as cloud storage, because your photos and other files are stored somewhere in that amorphous cloud of servers on the Internet.
Photos on your iPhone or iPad are automatically backed up to the iCloud service.
Cloud storage has many benefits, including making it relatively easy to share your photos (and other files) with others, as well as access your photos from anywhere you happen to be, using any Internet-connected device. In addition, if your photos are stored in the cloud, that means they're safe if anything disastrous happens to your smartphone. Lose or damage your phone and you still have your photos in the cloud.
What this all means, however, is that there are lots of potential points where your photos can be stolen. Naturally, anyone physically stealing your phone also steals your photos. But if your photos are also stored on your computer, that's another way a thief could appropriate them. In addition, a tech-savvy thief could break into your home's wireless network and access your computer[md]and photos[md]electronically.
Cloud storage represents yet another place where thieves can find and take your photos. Cloud storage services, such as iCloud and Dropbox, claim to have impeccable security for the data they store. But nothing is perfectly secure; even the toughest security can be breached. And the breach doesn't have to be on the server end of things; anyone with your user name and password can access your cloud storage account and then download whatever you have stored there.
As you can see, it shouldn't be surprising when we hear of people's photos being stolen. It's more surprising that it doesn't happen more often.