New cloud server could have kept celebrity pics safe, partner says

Founder of Jerusalem based firm joined up with Respect Network says the system could have safeguarded explicit photos of stars — and anyone else — from hacking

Rihanna performs at Tel Aviv as part of her 'Last Girl on Earth' tour, May 2010. . Rihanna was one of the celebrities whose explicit photos were released online this week. (photo credit: Flash90)
Rihanna performs at Tel Aviv as part of her 'Last Girl on Earth' tour, May 2010. . Rihanna was one of the celebrities whose explicit photos were released online this week. (photo credit: Flash90)

Celebrities live in constant fear of invasion of privacy, since they’re attractive targets for illicit photographers, gossip mongerers, and, as many like Scarlett Johannson and Kate Upton just learned the hard way, hackers accessing their photos. An Israeli businessperson has an answer — show them a bit of “Respect.”

The private pictures of dozens of celebrities made their way from Apple’s iCloud server to public websites this week, showing that fame and wealth are no defense against hacking, said Lionel Wolberger of Jerusalem’s Emmett Global. But the Respect Network, with which Emmett has partnered, could have prevented the mass photo leak, he said.

And “it’s open to everyone, not just celebrities,” said Wolberger.

The photos — many of them explicit — of about 100 female celebrities appeared online, apparently lifted from the iCloud accounts where they were stored. Victims include Jennifer Lawrence, Lea Michele, Rihanna, Upton, and actress and SodaStream spokesperson Johannson. Apple, which runs the iCloud online storage service for users of iPhones and iPads, is investigating, and so is the FBI. According to reports, the accounts were hacked, although Apple has not confirmed that. Wolberger said that from his understanding, hackers took advantage of a known security issue that Apple has now patched up.

Just the fact that the photos were sitting on Apple’s servers made them vulnerable, hack or no hack, said Wolberger, a founder and CTO of Emmett Global, which offers security apps and services for clients worldwide. “Services like iCloud are the old model, where big companies tell users to give them their data, which they will store online, in return for their having access to your data, e-mail address, etc., which they will use to sell you things,” said Wolberger.

“The Respect Network, which we are working with, offers a new model, in which you store your data not on a server run by a big company like Apple, but on your own private cloud.” The advantage, said Wolberger, is that when the inevitable hack does occur, “the hackers can only get to one account. Because everyone’s data is in separate storage areas, on separate servers, without anything tying them together — unlike the case with iCloud and its competitors — hackers looking to make off with masses of data, photos, or anything else will only be able to get to a single victim at a time, so it won’t be worth their while.”

Lionel Wolberger (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Lionel Wolberger (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The Respect Network debuted in July to provide an alternative to the current model of “free” services — like the ones offered by Google (Gmail, Google Docs, etc.) that take their payment in the form of access to your data, in order to figure out how to sell you stuff. Over 70 founding partners, from London to Tel Aviv and from Seattle to Sydney are behind the network, with members getting, for a one-time $25 fee, a personal “cloud name” — a lifetime private digital address for life.

That address can be used with services that join the Respect Network — including social media sites, banks, businesses, and other sites that require logins and passwords — and the information and data resides not on the business’s or service’s site, but on a server belonging to an ISP that is part of the network, under the “ownership” of the user. Users “license” their data to a site for a specific purpose — such as providing log-in credentials.

According to their contract with the Respect Network, the sites are prevented from making use of that data for any other purpose — unless the user specifically agrees to it, in which case they are to be compensated for their trouble. Users thus get access to all on-line services, and are able to participate in the full on-line experience, including sharing data and photos — but avoid the risks associated with online storage services.

The Respect Network is the “on-line antidote” to companies like Facebook and Google that require users to sign lengthy “terms of service” in order to access their services, said Wolberger. Buried deep in those multi-page terms, which few ever bother to read, is an agreement by users to allow the company to do whatever it wants with not only their personal data, but with anything they post on or send through the site. Facebook, according to many sources, uses members’ photos for ads and other purposes, though the company says it does not use the photos without user permission. Google examines Gmail accounts for keywords to decide what ads to show users. And the worst part, said Wolberger, is that users are vulnerable to illicit uses of their data, either by corporations or hackers.

The Respect Network’s solution may not be perfect — after all, it isn’t free — but it’s a workable alternative for safety and privacy. “Keeping data in separate, unrelated clouds is really the only way to avoid mass hacks,” said Wolberger. “Users really face a dilemma today: They want to share their data, but it seems that the sharing services are inevitably hacked. But if they want to avoid losing their personal data to hackers, their only choice has been to cut themselves off from on-line life. The Respect Network offers a happy compromise giving users the best of both worlds — allowing anyone, even celebrities, to store and share their data without having to worry about it getting stolen.”

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