Celebrity Hacking Scandal Exposes the Risks of Online Backup

The current celebrity hacking scandal is a stark reminder of the dangers of posting risqué photos to the Internet, but some of the comments of the parties involved suggest that they might not have known the photos were actually online. How is this possible?

Welcome to the age of automatic backup and cloud storage. Originally regarded as a life-saver for compulsive smartphone photographers and on-the-go office workers, online backup services are now giving users pause for thought.

In the current scandal, both the victims and outside observers have been quick to point the finger at iCloud, Apple’s backup service for iOS devices. Introduced in 2011, iCloud now has over 300 million users, who take advantage of the service to store music, photos, apps, documents, contacts, and more.

But as mentioned earlier, not everyone is aware that they are using iCloud or what iCloud is backing up and storing on their behalf. There is also an iCloud sub-service called Photo Stream, which automatically pushes photos to all the other devices registered to an iCloud user. These include not only phones and tablets but laptops and computers and even Apple TV.

Of course, Apple is not alone in offering these kind of backup and cloud storage services. Google has Google Drive, Microsoft offers OneDrive, and there are a host of third-party services such as Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, SafeSync, and more. Once activated, each of these services works quietly in the background, periodically scanning content folders on various devices and updating to the cloud.

Playing the blame game

But even if we backup photos and other content without realizing it, aren’t these services supposed to be secure? The answer is clearly ‘yes,’ but once content is uploaded to the Internet, it immediately becomes vulnerable to hackers and all kinds of security breaches.

In the case of the celebrity photos that are currently circulating the Internet, Apple was quick to release a statement claiming that there was no breach in any of its cloud services, including iCloud and Find My iPhone. Instead they alleged that the hackers targeted user names, passwords and security questions. To protect against this type of attack, Apple recommended using a strong password and what it referred to as “two-step verification.”

What does all this mean? Well, it means that most of us, including well-known celebrities, are still incredibly sloppy when it comes to password use. One of the biggest vulnerabilities is in the area of password recovery. If a hacker knows someone’s e-mail address, then it can be relatively easy to recover a password, as the answers to secondary security questions such as ‘What was the name of your first pet?’ or ‘What is your mother’s maiden name?’ can be easily obtained through social media or other public sources.

While effective, the two-step verification that Apple recommends can be time-consuming and awkward, as it involves sending a secondary password to a cell phone or other device every time you log in. Almost every cloud service offers this extra protection but only a tiny fraction of users have signed on.

How can you protect your personal information?

So how can a celebrity – or regular user – protect their personal information? First of all, avoid using easy-to-hack passwords. You should also consider using one-off e-mail addresses for each of your cloud services, so it’s harder for anyone to claim a lost password. Also, lie when you answer those security questions. If you actually have a dog called Fido, that’s the last name you should use when asked about your favorite pet!

Next, consider using two-step authentication, even if it means more of a hassle when you log on. Barring a data breach at the server level, this is the one move that can almost guarantee the security of your account.

Finally, if you want to make sure you don’t want someone to have access to your personal information, don’t put it online – period. To be honest, the idea that major box office celebrities and models would happily post nude pictures of themselves to the Internet is a bit of a head-scratcher, unless they didn’t realize they were posting online in the first place. Yes, there is an expectation of privacy, but that expectation is diminished with every new headline detailing the perils of the digital age.

Monday, November 10: A Special Twitter Event!


When: TODAY, Monday, November 10, 2014
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm ET
11:00 am – 12:00 pm PT

Join @RobynsWorld @TheOnlineMom and friends TODAY at 2 pm ET (11 am PT) as we learn about Verizon Educational Tools and focus on how they can help improve your child’s reading and language arts skills!
Having easy access to good online study aids builds confidence and helps students prepare for those all-important tests. Join us as we examine an innovative educational initiative from Verizon that can transform smartphones and tablets into essential learning resources!
  RSVP and attend the party for a chance to win a MOTO X 4G LTE smartphone or a Plantronics Bluetooth headset!

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

  1. Email RSVP@theonlinemom.com (subject line: VZEducation) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed: http://ow.ly/ClLra
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#VZEducation) today between 2 – 3 pm ET
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the Party!

(The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon Wireless.)

Verizon FiOS Steps Up Its Customer Support

Despite the tendency of technology to eliminate the need for human intervention, customer service still matters. In fact, it could be argued that good customer service now matters more than ever, a contention that’s well supported if you visit the chat rooms or social media pages of any well-known consumer brand.

Although the ability to reach a friendly voice is often a welcome surprise, access to the right online support is just as important. And I’m not talking about a pdf version of an incomprehensible user manual. Instead, I want well-organized, relevant information that gets right to the heart of my product or service issues.

These thoughts went through my mind recently when I took a tour of Verizon’s newly-designed online help pages, which might just be the new gold standard in online customer support.

If you are a FiOS Internet customer and you log-on to the support dashboard using the Verizon network, you might be a little surprised to see the page greet you by name. But this is more than just a gimmick. Because Verizon knows exactly who you are and what Verizon services you use, it can tailor its support pages to anticipate your exact service needs.

The support dashboard includes a QuickGuides link that’s a gateway to over 30 helpful and easy-to-follow videos. Each short video – most of them are no more than a minute in length – provides practical advice on a range of popular help topics, such as troubleshooting your Verizon router, or how to print wirelessly from an iPhone or iPad.

As well as the QuickGuides, there are more detailed support pages for Verizon’s three main services: TV, Internet and Phone. Want to set up parental controls on your FiOS TV? A dedicated support page will explain how parental controls work and walk you through the set-up. Want to re-set your Verizon phone voice mail passcode? There’s a help page for that as well.

At any time you can click the Ask Verizon button to connect with an automated Verizon agent. And if you really want to get down and dirty, there are always the Forums, where you can discuss everything from the best On Demand movies to how to find the recently-added SEC Network.

Verizon FiOS is well-known for its speed and reliability. It’s good to know that those qualities also extend to its customer support!

The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon.