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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Celebrity nude photo scandal questions security, modesty

Nude Photos and Privacy

Francis Emelogu/The Cougar

Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Ariana Grande, Victoria Justice and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are just a few of the approximately 100 celebrities whose nude photographs were posted anonymously to the website 4chan a number of weeks ago. In the aftermath, many question the security of their electronic devices and wonder who should be held accountable.

The average citizen lacks the requisite level of notoriety to worry about naked photos of themselves spreading like wildfire across the Internet. That isn’t to say that such an event happening to a celebrity doesn’t cause everyone to take a collective gasp at the mere thought of such embarrassment.

The heart of the issue is larger than racy pictures alone. These photos have functioned to heighten public awareness regarding the security, or lack thereof, of one’s private files. It’s not unreasonable to assume that many Americans deleted some questionable content from their own phones in response to the leaked photos.

The New Yorker reported that computer science professor Matthew Green at Johns Hopkins University provided two possibilities for the way these images found their way on to the Internet. The first suggests that a hacker, or hackers, discovered a way into Apple’s iCloud: an application that allows users to store information on remote servers via the Internet.

The second option involves the Find My iPhone app which helps owners find their missing device and access files contained in the iCloud. The problem, until recently, was that Find My iPhone wouldn’t lock after a series of failed log-in attempts.

For a hacker, this means that an algorithm could be implemented to run a series of possible password combinations until the correct one is discovered. With no lock-out for failed passwords, a million attempts can be made in a relatively short amount of time without interruption.

It looks as though the deluge of celebrity photos were stolen from those using the iPhone. Representing 25 percent of the smartphone population, iPhone users have cause to be concerned about the security of their devices.

The iPhone is certainly more resilient to hacker attacks in the wake of recent events, as almost immediately after the photos in question began appearing on the web, Apple created a patch for Find My iPhone to prevent unauthorized access to iCloud. Although Apple denies an iCloud breach occurred, the speed of the company’s technical response suggests culpability.

“I wasn’t aware that iPhones were the vulnerable link in the celebrity photo theft,” said English graduate student Rachel Fairbank. “My concern isn’t heightened as an iPhone user because theft like this can happen on any device.”

The stolen photos ignited a blame game across the Internet as to who should be held accountable. On a certain level, it’s natural for people to want to declare a responsible party; the someone-has-to-pay mentality assuages public fear that something like this could happen to them if they know where to place fault.

Some may say Apple is to blame for failing to adequately protect its users, some will argue it’s the fault of corrupt hackers for publishing the images and others will suggest that we should look to the celebrities themselves. Of the three options, it seems sensible to suggest that each shares a portion of the responsibility for the surfacing of the pictures.

“I don’t think anyone who this happens to is at fault because that’s victim shaming,” said theatre junior David Olivarez. “The hackers are definitely to blame because they illegally invaded someone’s privacy.”

The responses of the celebrities affected were as varied as the images themselves. Some chose to laugh the whole thing off, which is probably the right way to go. As for those who were incensed by the theft of their photos, it’s easy to feel inclined to suggest that they are the most deserving of censure — after all, it’s their naked body they allowed to be photographed in the first place.

It’s important to remember that no hardware or software is impenetrable. For every programmer employed by Apple — or any company for that matter — to devise security features, there’s an equally knowledgeable hacker working to circumvent them.

Everyone has the right to snap as many nude photos as they’d like, but when taking photographs of this nature, one has to acknowledge the possibility that someone, or everyone, will see the images.

If the photos make it to the Internet, too bad for you. It’s not appropriate to be upset — if and when this happens — since the subject of the photo implicitly accepted any and all consequences the moment the picture was taken. When feeling compelled to take photos in the buff, always remember the cardinal rule of nude selfies: take it from the neck down.

Opinion columnist Jonathan Bolan is a English graduate student and may be reached at [email protected]

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