Racy photos are like catnip for hackers

In a world where paparazzi can make thousands of dollars for a photo of a clothed celebrity, it should come as little surprise that there’s a big market for photos of naked stars.

The recent hacking scandal, in which nude “selfies” of several (mostly) female celebrities were posted online, has created a stir among pundits and commenters. Some argue that women who don’t want to see personal photos go viral can solve that problem by just not taking them in the first place. Others counter that that’s “blaming the victim,” that the real onus should be on the hackers.

Of course it should be. But as long as there are people who don’t value personal privacy and as long as there’s a market for racy photos, this kind of intrusion is sure to keep happening – especially when it’s made all that easier with computer technology. The best way to ensure privacy is, to paraphrase advice from a simpler time: Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of a newspaper.

Taking risqué selfies meant for personal use should not put someone at risk for having those photos viewed by half the world. But, sadly, that’s the reality. One should be just as careful about taking nudie shots as about leaving keys in a car’s ignition in a sketchy neighborhood.

One doesn’t even have to be a celebrity to be a victim. Many women have been targets of “revenge porn”: jilted partners retaliate by posting personal photos online. Even photos like those posted on the photo messaging app Snapchat, which are supposed to disappear after a few seconds, aren’t completely safe from being compromised; all one has to do is take a photo of the screen before the image vanishes.

When the celebrity photo scandal broke, it was described in many accounts as an iCloud hacking. But Apple says that its iCloud systems had not been breached, that thieves probably were able to steal celebrity photos from Apple by tricking account holders into giving up their passwords and user names. It’s also possible to guess at passwords just by reading information posted on social media; many people use their birth date or pet’s name as passwords, for instance. A too-common password is “password.”

In the wake of the scandal, computer security experts have come out with all sorts of advice on how to guard against being hacked. Here’s ours: There will always be someone out there who knows more about computer technology than you; just assume he’s trying to get what you’ve got stored away or deleted, and act accordingly.