In March 2014, a security researcher raised the flag and warned Apple of a possible iCloud vulnerability. Just several months down the road, iCloud accounts belonging to A-list celebrities — including Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Vanessa Hudgens — were specifically targeted and severely compromised leading to the biggest and most controversial leak of celebrity nude pictures online.
Some of you might still remember the year 2011 when we were treated to some very private photos of Hollywood star, Scarlett Johansson, which were taken with her smartphone and posted on a variety of online sites before it went totally viral. Each time, the entire world stood by and watched in horror, but mostly in glee (you know who you are). It’s like they say, its all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
Leaked images of celebrities in the buff may not be new, but as it turns out, such things have happened to us mere mortals although they just never made that big of a splash in the news. There have been numerous cases involving men and women alike who have had their computers hacked, and if nude photos were discovered, the victims would often be blackmailed in exchange for more photos, money, or both.
It’s a process called “sextortion”, a term coined from two words — sexual extortion. Sextortion occurs when a person gets ahold of an inappropriate photo or any other incriminating evidence belonging to you and uses it to their advantage. It could happen in so many ways; your phone got pick-pocketed, or that your former best friend decided that sharing those racy photos would be a fun way to get back at you, or that somebody hacked into your computer and programmed the webcam to take photos of you without your knowledge, or in recent happenings — through an iCloud leak.
So how do you protect yourself from being a victim of sextortion? There are a few steps you can take to save yourself from having to go through this ordeal.
Keep your pictures PG-rated
The golden rule is to keep your images squeaky clean. In other words, never text, email or post any explicit photos of yourself under any circumstances. Not even if your image is hidden behind a password lock because once you put an image out there, you’re no longer in control of it. It is as simple as that.
Update your anti-virus program software
A good anti-virus program can protect you from all sorts of attacks, including sextortion, but failing to update it regularly can lead to ineffectiveness. Always ensure that you run an update on a weekly basis or even better yet, let your anti-virus software auto-update itself for peace of mind.
Unplug or disable your Webcam when not in use
A lot of victims never intended for their photos to be taken, nor do they knowingly share such images of themselves. Our computer devices are constantly around us; even while we go about our daily lives. If your computer has been compromised, your webcam can capture imagery while you’re changing clothes, for instance, even when it isn’t in use. If you have a system with a built-in camera, cover it up with a little piece of electrical tape. Easy as pie.
Use your common sense
Call me Captain Obvious all you want but the truth is, its only normal to occasionally get distracted by the constant happenings in our lives and lose sight of the little things. Practice double-checking your surroundings to see if there are any devices running in the background. In one series of attacks, a number of female victims were convinced to bring in their laptops near steam to clear out a sensor. Unfortunately, the women brought their machines into the bathroom during their next shower, allowing the perpetrator to watch them bathe. Remember that it doesn’t hurt to be a little dubious when asked to do something questionable.
If you believe that you are a victim of this crime, you can to go to the police or any other law enforcement in your location and file a report immediately; or seek legal advice from a legal aid society or organization near you before deciding on your next step.