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What the celebrity photo hack can teach us about cloud security

2/09/2014 by


By now, you have probably heard about the digital exposure, so to speak, of nude photos of as many as 100 celebrities, taken from their Apple iCloud backups and posted to the "b" forum on 4Chan. Over the last day, an alleged perpetrator has been exposed by redditors, although the man has declared his innocence. The mainstream media have leapt on the story and have gotten reactions from affected celebrities including Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton.

Someone claiming to be the individual responsible for the breach has used 4Chan to offer explicit videos from Lawrence's phone, as well as more than 60 nude "selfies" of the actress. In fact, it seems multiple "b-tards" claimed they had access to the images, with one providing a Hotmail address associated with a PayPal account, and another seeking contributions to a Bitcoin wallet. Word of the images launched a cascade of Google searches and set Twitter trending. As a result, 4Chan/b/ -- the birthplace of Anonymous -- has opened its characteristically hostile arms to a wave of curious onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite starlets' naked bodies. Happy Labour Day!

This breach is different from other recent celebrity "hacks" in that it used a near-zero-day vulnerability in an Apple cloud interface. Instead of using social engineering or some low-tech research to gain control of the victims' cloud accounts, the attacker basically bashed in the front door -- and Apple didn't find out until the attack was over. While an unusual, long, convoluted password may have prevented the attack from being successful, the only real defence against this assault was never to put photos in Apple's cloud in the first place. Even Apple's two-factor authentication would not have helped.

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