I’m a celebrity, get me out of here

By Dr. Guy Bunker @guybunker

Green snake

Well, you would have been hard pressed to miss the fact that a security breach of iCloud has occurred, resulting in lots of photos of naked celebrities hitting the Internet.

As to how exactly it happened, there are various thoughts, ideas and rumours. However, the real cause of the incident is irrelevant at this point. The photos are out there – and the consequences have to be taken.

For most, it is the actual photo, the image itself, which is the concern. However, the breach has also exposed more than just the image. The meta-data has also gone into the wild. Why is this important? Well, the metadata – especially the geo-location – has other ramifications. Where was the picture taken? Let’s think about some of the various options:

  1. The picture was taken at home. In this case, the location of the home is now known. Not a general area such as “Beverly Hills”, but an actual location within a few feet. 
  2. The picture was taken on holiday. In this case, the holiday location is known. This might not be of immediate interest, as the holiday is probably over, but it does mean the holiday destination becomes a known location.
  3. The picture was taken at someone else’s home. Who was it? What were they doing there? There’s no end to the potential gossip that this could create!

So – as with most data breaches, there are always unintended consequences which aren’t always obvious to begin with. In this case, it’s that photos can have GPS co-ordinates attached (meta-data) to them and that information has the potential to cause more problems than the image itself (the actual data). This isn’t the first time that image meta-data has caused problems. There are a number of well documented cases, where military personnel have posted images of themselves and the GPS information has then given their position away to those that shouldn’t have it – putting lives at risk. The armed forces now have policies in place (and in some cases technology to help prevent this from happening in the future – but there is a lesson to be learned here for everyone, businesses and individuals alike.

We live in a world where meta-data is created all the time and if you don’t understand that this happens, and it gets shared with the world, the consequences can be enormous. As apps, especially on smart phones, evolve to create more meta-data which can be mined for money, the need for understanding has never been so important and the need for control and protection of it has never been greater.