It has been more than four years since I first reported to you about the hacking of numerous iCloud accounts of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton. Nude photos were stolen from these accounts and posted on the Internet. Since that time four individuals pleaded guilty to the hacking of these accounts. All of these individuals acted alone, but they all used the same tactic to obtain the photos. Last October Christopher Brannan also pleaded guilty to the same crime and will be sentenced tomorrow in federal court in Virginia. Prosecutors are asking for a sentence of almost three years in prison.
While at the initial time that the celebrity photos were stolen from their iCloud and Gmail accounts there were questions about the security of the Cloud and Gmail, eventually it became known that all of the hackers used spear phishing emails to their victims posing as the victims’ Internet Service Providers, Apple, Yahoo and Hotmail to trick their victims into providing their user names and passwords to the hackers enabling them to readily access the photos in the Cloud or in their Gmail accounts.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from this crime about how to protect our own security. It is important to resist providing your username and passwords in response to emails and text messages unless you have absolutely and independently confirmed that the request is legitimate, which such requests seldom are. If you have any concern that such a request might be legitimate, merely call the real company to confirm the legitimacy of the communication.
Also, take advantage of the dual-factor identification protocols offered by Apple and many others. With dual-factor identification, your password is only the starting point for accessing your account. After you have inputted your password, the site you are attempting to access will send a special one-time code to your smartphone for you to use to be able to access your account. In some instances, the companies will only send the code to you if your account is being accessed from a different device than you usually use to access your accounts. Had Jennifer Lawrence and the other hacked celebrities used dual-factor identification, they would still have their privacy.
It is also important to note that merely because you think you have deleted a photograph or video from your smartphone, that may not be accurate. Smartphones save deleted photographs and videos on their cloud servers such as the Google+service for Android phones and the iCloud for iPhones. However, you can change the settings on your smartphone to prevent your photos from automatically being preserved in the cloud.
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