What Scarlett Johansson Should Have Done to Protect Her Private Photos
This Monday, Christopher Chaney, the man who hacked into the online accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera and other women and posted revealing photos on the Internet, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“It’s hard to fathom the mindset of a person who would accomplish all of this,” said Chaney’s judge. “These types of crimes are as pernicious and serious as physical stalking.”
As our lives are increasingly tied to our digital identities and activities like teen sexting are becoming the norm, the question of digital privacy has taken center stage. How much control do we have over sensitive information published to the Internet, and how do we retain control if something like a private photo is saved on a connected device? I take heart that law enforcement is beginning to prosecute offenders like Christopher Chaney, but sending these hackers to jail will never completely reverse the embarrassment and reputation damage suffered by victims. While punishment of offenders is certainly part of the equation, more important is learning how to protect data from hackers and thieves in the first place.
So, what could have Scarlett Johansson done to protect her photos from Chaney’s attack? Below, I outline 4 simple prevention tactics that everyone – not just celebrities – should know to protect their privacy online.
1. Reevaluate Your “Forgot Password” Secret Question
Many of Chaney’s celebrity hacks took advantage of the “Forgot Password” secret question option on email accounts. For example, you might choose “Name of your High School” as a secret question to access a forgotten password – an answer that is readily available online, especially for celebrities. When choosing a secret question for accounts with this option, always choose something that has never (and will never) cross paths with the Internet. This rules out streets you’ve lived on and schools you went to, but it could exclude private information such as pet names or your favorite food if those are publically available online. For example, it’s widely known that the hacker who broke into Paris Hilton’s phone did it with her Chihuahua’s name, Tinkerbell.
2. Triple Check Your Email Settings
One way Chaney was able to gain access to celebrity accounts for so long was that even if the person did update their password or security settings, he set up email forwarding to his personal account. This tactic is less obvious, because most people think a simple password change will fix the problem if their account is hacked. While a password change will help in most cases, it does nothing to disable an email forwarding service. Luckily, it’s a simple fix if you know forwarding is a possibility, and all users need to do is check their email settings to make sure messages are not being sent to an unauthorized account.
3. Check in Before You Send Sensitive Information
We get it: Nobody’s perfect. As much as we want to tell users to simply NOT send sensitive photos over the Internet, we know it will happen. That being said, if you’re going to send private photos, always speak over the phone with the person who made the request before sending. In Christina Aguilera’s case, Chaney sent an email from the hacked account of her stylist, Simon Harouche, to request photos. Had she mentioned the request to Harouche first, she could have prevented the pictures from falling into the wrong hands.
4. Protect Your Devices
Last but not least, the best preventative tactic users at home can do to protect their privacy online is install a trusted security solution. Products like McAfee All Access can secure information across all devices in your home – from your daughter’s smartphone to your husband’s Mac. This can help by providing services like remote data wipes if a device is lost or stolen, management of multiple complex passwords for accounts, and protection of photos and information shared on social networking sites.
For more specifics on how Chaney hacked celebrity accounts, check out this detailed rundown from GQ. And for the latest on this topic and other security news and events, follow us on Twitter @McAfeeConsumer.