The attack targeted specific user names, passwords and security questions.
After hackers stole and released several dozen female celebrities' personal photographs over the Internet this weekend, apparently by breaking into their iCloud accounts, Apple has finally responded in full.
In a new statement by the company, the company says iCloud, which stores multimedia taken on Apple products, and the Find My iPhone feature, which allows users to track a missing device, were not hacked. Instead, engineers "discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet."
Below is the full statement (emphasis ours):
We wanted to provide an update to our investigation into the theft of photos of certain celebrities. When we learned of the theft, we were outraged and immediately mobilized Apple's engineers to discover the source. Our customers' privacy and security are of utmost importance to us. After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet. None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple's systems including iCloud(R) or Find my iPhone. We are continuing to work with law enforcement to help identify the criminals involved.
To protect against this type of attack, we advise all users to always use a strong password and enable two-step verification. Both of these are addressed on our website at http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4232.
The attack lead to the release of photos of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Though Apple's two-step verification recommendation could help protect against future attacks, the stolen photos had already been obtained over the course of many months, as Deadspin noted.
Whatever the method (the FBI investigation is ongoing), the theft of the photos is a clear violation of privacy — and as our own David Sims pointed out, not "leaked," as if the appearance of such photos was an accident, or an act that can be reversed. Over at The Verge, T.C. Sottek pointed out that many of the users who willingly sought out the photos and gleefully spread them didn't like the N.S.A. spying on their own information.
So while Apple's findings are illuminating, the two-step verification process is simply a temporary solution to a larger problem involving, as Sottek put it, "the detritus of human society."