If you haven't already heard, nude photos purporting to be of dozens of young Hollywood starlets, including Jennifer Lawrence, Ariana Grande and Kate Upton, began appearing on the Web last night (Aug. 31).
The photos, some of which have been confirmed to be real, are almost all "selfies" taken by the subjects themselves using smartphone cameras. It's not clear how the images were accessed — various theories blame Apple's iCloud photo-backup service, Dropbox's similar service, or both — but they first showed up on the 4chan and Reddit discussion boards. (Apple admits that some of its accounts were hit by "a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions.")
Apart from the unsurprising fact that young actresses look good in photographs, this breach of data and privacy reveals just how vulnerable sensitive personal information can be as a result of Internet services designed for users' convenience.
To avoid suffering the same fate as Jennifer Lawrence, here's what to do — and not do:
Don't use a smartphone to take compromising pictures. If you absolutely must take nude selfies, use a camera that's not connected to the Internet. Don't email the photos, and don't back them up to a cloud-storage or cloud-sharing service; if you do either, copies will be stored on someone else's computer.
Pick a strong password for each online account. Too many passwords are easy to guess, and too many are used for multiple accounts. For anything sensitive, make sure you have a strong password for each: a password that's least 10 characters long, includes numbers and punctuation marks and isn't based on a word you can find in the dictionary.
Set up two-factor authentication for any online account that handles your photos. Here's how to set up two-factor authentication for Facebook, and here's how to set up two-factor authentication for Apple, Dropbox and Google. With two-factor authentication turned on, anyone who tries to access your account from a computer or smartphone that isn't yours will need to enter a special code that's been texted to your smartphone and yours alone.
You may also want to go into your smartphone's settings to turn off the service that automatically backs up your photos to Apple or Google's servers, but that puts your regular images at risk of being lost forever if your phone is damaged, lost or stolen.
Just remember that if you're taking nude photos with your smartphone, they are probably being backed up in the cloud, and as a result, you're losing control of them. To paraphrase the old adage, you don't want to lose control of any digital image you wouldn't want your grandmother to see.
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Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.