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It’s Always About Apple

It rarely matters what happens in the tech business. Far too many alleged media analysts and reporters will devise a scheme to get Apple involved. And even when they appear to be involved, the truth may be different from it may seem at first glance.

So we have those predictable reports in the wake of the reported hacking of the accounts of a number of celebrities, and the posting of their private nude photos. It was all about Apple and iCloud. How could they possibly allow this unseemly behavior to happen? It couldn’t possibly be the fault of people who aren’t taking steps to protect their stuff. Ahead of what may the most important product intros in the company’s history, Tim Cook’s dynasty was in disarray.

And what about that nearly six-hour iTunes and App Store outage last Tuesday?

Apple certainly took it all seriously, and went about investigating what happened. At the end of the day, though, they announced it was not about any lapse in iCloud security. It was about the people who don’t show appropriate caution in putting their stuff online.

Indeed, the problem has become part of pop culture. The other day, I watched a TV crime procedural where the office computer nerd was trying to guess the password on a murder victim’s computer to open some encrypted documents. They tried the usual offenders, such as the name of their cats, dogs, or even the word “password.” Finally someone suggested they try the name of their boyfriend, and, sure enough, it worked!

It’s par for the course, and nobody on any of these shows ever remarks on the stupidity of the people who use passwords that are so easy to guess. The audience no doubt smiles, but I’m sure most people don’t realize that, being guilty of such poor planning, they are susceptible to hacking. It’s just that they aren’t famous, so they aren’t on anyone’s radar except for random hacks that might infect a bank, retailer, or computer network.

So this celebrity attack was against some entertainers, not the service. If they used Android or Windows Phone, with their own connected cloud services, it wouldn’t matter. They’d achieve the same results because the passwords were most likely insecure, and that’s the major problem.

But the media wanted to make it about Apple. I heard an interview the other day featuring NBC correspondent Chris Matthews, in which it was mentioned that Apple ought to have two-factor authentication. But they do, and such features are being added to other services all the time. With iCloud, you can login with your password, after which the system send a text message on your iPhone with a number code. Only when you enter that code will you actually connect.

Yes, two-factor authentication may take an extra few seconds to complete, but it also makes it harder for hackers to login to your accounts in search of the things you do not want outsiders to see. While I won’t comment on whether it’s appropriate for anyone to take nude photos of themselves, their family or friends, the very decision to store them online puts them in a less-secure situation.

If that person is among the rich and the famous, you just know that hackers around the world are only too happy to break into their accounts in search of incriminating messages, photos and videos. How could it be otherwise?

Now I haven’t really gotten into the conspiracy theory about how all this came about, coincidentally, the week before Apple’s media event to launch the new iPhone and perhaps the iWatch and other products. Curious indeed!

But one of our readers suggested that Samsung might be behind this dirty trick. Perhaps, perhaps not. Sure, Samsung is hoping the media will pay attention to the announcement of some of their new mobile gear this week. One of those products even sports a wrap-around screen, which seems among the stupidest “innovations” yet. Do they expect you to flip the device to its side to catch the rest of a message? Get real! Of course, Samsung also sells costly TVs with curved screens, a questionable advantage unless you want to duplicate IMAX in your living room.

Still, I wouldn’t care to suggest which company might be responsible for this sorry episode, or even that any Apple competitor was involved. The timing, however, is surely curious. Still, Apple clearly took the appropriate steps to get ahead of the message. If there’s any good that’ll come of this episode, maybe it will encourage more of you to use secure login techniques, from strong passwords to two-factor authentication.

It’s also important to understand what the cloud means and whether you really want to entrust your confidential information to any third-party. As talk show host Thom Hartmann was saying on his syndicated radio show as I wrote this column, don’t forget that the cloud is merely a network of computers run by a faceless corporation. Sure, they all have terms and conditions that are designed to help you protect yourself, but those terms may also get a company off the hook if something goes wrong.

At the end of the day, you should be doubly careful about what information you allow to leave the comfort of your home or office. And if you choose to use a cloud-based system, do what’s necessary to shore up your login scheme. With Apple gear and recent OS releases, there’s iCloud Keychain, where the system can select a secure password for you. That’s a good start, and for those who aren’t using Apple products or services, there are third party password management solutions to help you protect yourself.

The best advice is to use them. And if you are a public figure, realize you need to be doubly careful about what you do, where you do it, and how you protect yourself from people who want to learn your secrets. In short, if you don’t want your racy photos seen by outsiders, keep them to yourself.