Leaky iCloud

As I picked up my copy of Private Eye at the station Newsagent just now I noticed the headlines on certain of the dailies going on about hackers stealing naked photos of celebrities from their Apple on-line storage areas. The fact that they were (apparently) celebrities and that the weren’t wearing clothes was the main point for the tabloids, but the big story is really the security of cloud storage.

Personally, I’d be very surprised if attackers had actually compromised Apple’s servers. More likely explanations would be an inside job, or the lusers endpoints. But my money would be a phishing attack.

It does highlight, however, the danger of outsourcing your sensitive data to anyone.

In the 1980’s the fad for outsourcing really took off. Professional engineers all said it was a bad idea then. If your company data is important, the last thing any business should do is trust it to someone else.

The term ‘cloud’ has become a trendy marketing concept in recent years. What it really means is “I have no idea and don’t care.”. It was used in context as follows:

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“Where is that service your using actually running?”

“Don’t know, somewhere up in the clouds!”

It’s was ironic. In the real would, admitting you’ve lost control of your data is hardly something anyone would be proud of. But suits heard the new buzzword and wanted some of it. And the punters quickly accepted the benefits (free stuff) without a thought to the risks.

So has Apple’s on line storage been compromised? I doubt it’s been hacked. The technology is fairly robust. If you want to access iCloud data, Apple’s servers themselves are not the soft attack vector. The obvious method is to trick users into handing out their passwords. After all, any coy celebrity foolish enough to (a) take pictures of themselves in the buff; and (b) store them on someone else’s computer, are hardly going to be the brightest stars in the sky.

The fact that fanbois seem to have been the victims in this case is irrelevant. They may have been easier targets if, indeed, it was a phishing attack. However, the general principle remains the same whoever is providing the service – Amazon, Google, Dropbox, Microsoft or one of the many startups trying to get a bit of the action. And the same goes for Facebook and the like – anyone uploading anything remotely sensitive to their servers needs to consider the implications. If you wouldn’t publish something directly on your web page for all to see, don’t send it to “the cloud” either.

The American gun-selling industry has long used the argument that firearms in themselves aren’t dangerous. It’s the users that are the problem. They’re right, in so far as the argument goes. Unfortunately, adding the human factor to cloud services makes the encryption, data centre security and other precautions taken by the providers irrelevant in the same way. People will be hurt. And “celebrities” will caught with their pants down.

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