Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Nothing is safe from the hackers – as I’ve just discovered

Just how much privacy is left? Rym Ghazal is rattled when details about her private life are revealed by a young hacker.
A massive hack of nude and intimate photos of scores of female celebrities from cloud-based storage accounts this week has all of us talking about privacy and the safety of our personal information.   Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / AFP
A massive hack of nude and intimate photos of scores of female celebrities from cloud-based storage accounts this week has all of us talking about privacy and the safety of our personal information.   Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / AFP

If someone were to steal my phone, or simply hack into it, would they find anything on it that I wouldn’t want them to?

As many celebrities have found out this week, deleting something off your phone is not always enough.

A massive hack of nude and intimate photos of scores of minor stars – including Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Ariana Grande and Kate Upton – from cloud-based storage accounts has all of us talking about privacy and the safety of our personal information.

In many ways, our whole life is now on our smart phone. We take photos with them, our emails are received and answered on them, we have so much data stored that you could piece together a person’s life by looking through what’s on their phone. Even browsing through someone’s selfies reveals a lot about that person’s lifestyle and personality.

We have become far too dependent on gadgets. We don’t even do basic sums in our head without reaching for our smart phone’s calculator. Don’t believe me? Just recall the last time you had to divide a dinner bill between friends. Hardly any of us memorise important phone numbers any more either.

We have entrusted our life to the small gadget and the world it is connected to. Virtual backup systems such as iCloud (Apple’s online storage facility) had become the answer to the perceived threat of data loss. I say had, as this week’s hack has recalibrated all our calculations. Apple has since denied its systems have been breached, deepening the mystery of what really happened and how the hacker got access to so much privileged information.

This incident triggered many articles explaining what exactly a Cloud is and how the technology works, as most of us had taken it for granted.

Initially, I thought someone had leaked these photographs on purpose, as far too often a nobody becomes a somebody after an intimate video is “leaked”. That was before the FBI said it was now “addressing the matter”.

Private photos can ruin someone’s reputation. Unfortunately, here and elsewhere in the Middle East, compromising photos have been used to blackmail individuals, especially women.

Ultimately, it is not about embarrassing photos, as much as violation of privacy and access to important personal information. All major industries, including banks and government entities, rely on technology and back up their data online. It is no small matter if a bank is hacked and its accounts tampered with.

Experts have been warning us about cyber attacks and virtual wars for ages, and yet unless it happens to us, we don’t take much notice.

Just how vulnerable we are was illustrated to me by a group of “geeky geniuses” I met during my travels who said that with a few clicks, they could reveal to me some of my most private information.

I wasn’t impressed by most of the information they trawled up – because as a journalist your life is already public to some extent – until one of them named the hospital where I was born. That did it for me. There is a complicated story behind it, and so when he simply named it, and did so with a smug expression on his face, I felt exposed.

The fact this group were all in their early 20s somehow made it even worse. For some odd reason, some of them felt “entitled” to this private information.

“If we can find it, then it is public information” is the logic applied by this type of young hacker.

In other words, be careful what you put on your phone and computer. There are people out there who make it their business to find out what is there.

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @Arabianmau

Updated: September 3, 2014 04:00 AM

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