The incident Monday night in which nude photographs of prominent actresses and models were leaked on a thread on 4chan – a website that allows users to post images on digital bulletin boards – is neither odd nor random. This was not a case in which somebody hacked into a person’s cellular phone, or where hidden cameras were planted in the home of some famous person or other. What happened earlier this week was a cyber incident in every way: It was a planned attack in which the hackers stole photos from specific information-storage systems, held onto them for a time and then released them on a specific, strategic date.
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For those who do not read the gossip websites, here, in essence, is what happened: Dozens of embarrassing nude photos of prominent actresses and models, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, were made public as part of a well-planned attack. It is believed that the photographs were obtained via a planned hacking of Apple’s iCloud data-storage servers.
But the way the break-in was accomplished is not important. What is important is that all the photographs the women had uploaded to the cloud storage service were published at a time determined in advance.
It is true that the only way to keep your nude photographs from appearing on the Internet is not to take any to begin with. Even if you were to agree to do allow this, leaks happen from time to time because of malfunctions or planned attacks. But a pre-planned online incident in which there is more than one victim indicates that the attack in question is nothing less than a cyber event that must be taken seriously.
You do not always know when information about you is being leaked. You are not usually notified about it, and if someone were to hack into your account and copy the data it contained, there is no reason you would hear about it until your embarrassing photographs or trade secrets went public.
That is precisely the reason why it seems that in the case this week, hackers sat in peace and quiet for several months, gathering one photograph after another, and then leaked them on the day of their choice.
There are two ways to avoid such incidents – and they are not “Don’t take nude photos” or “Don’t keep trade secrets.” The first is to promote legislation that allows every computer user to receive a report of incidents involving breaches of information security. The second is to demand that data-storage providers notify you about any use that is made of your information, and about whom it is that has gained access to it at any given time.
The problem is that these two processes will require responsibility on the part of the users – something that apparently does not exist while they are being photographed in the nude.
Attorney Jonathan Klinger is the legal adviser of the Digital Rights Movement.