The circulation of nude photographs stolen from celebrities' online accounts has thrown a spotlight on the security of cloud computing, a system used by a growing number of Canadians to store personal information over the Internet.
On Tuesday, Apple acknowledged the security breakdown and blamed it on intruders who were able to figure out usernames and passwords and bypass other safeguards.
The company said it found no evidence of a widespread problem in iCloud or its Find my iPhone services.
But the theft of the photos raises questions about the protection of information stored beyond a person's own computer or mobile device.
If celebrities' photos aren't safe, then whose are? Some key questions and answers about information that is stored remotely:
Q: What is the cloud?
A: The cloud is a way of storing photos, documents, email and other data on faraway machines. Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft all offer cloud-based storage. Smaller companies like Dropbox and Evernote do, too. The practice saves space on computers, smartphones and tablets and allows users to access the same information from any device. And if you lose your phone, for example, you don't lose your vacation pictures. The drawback is that you are putting your information somewhere else, so you run the risk of a hacking attack on those systems and accounts.
Q: Is it secure?
A: For the most part, yes. Companies invest a lot to ensure that customers' private information stays private. ``The short answer is the cloud is often more secure than other storage,'' says Rich Mogull, CEO of security research and advisory firm Securosis.
But that doesn't mean the system can't be compromised. ``There are a lot of attackers who have a lot of time,'' Mogull says.
Q: How can individuals make their data more secure?
A: You need passwords to access your accounts, so choosing a strong one is important.
Tim Bajarin, an analyst at technology research firm Creative Strategies, recommends having different passwords for each account you hold online, so a breach in one system won't compromise another. It is also important to have a number and punctuation mark in each
password or a creative spelling of a word to make it harder to guess. Also, avoid using common words or notable birthdays as passwords. A strong password is particularly important if you store sensitive information online.