Should You Avoid Photo Stream After the iCloud Hack?

Jennifer Lawrence

Dan MacMedan / Getty Images 

On August 31st, 2014, Apple should have been getting ready for its biggest week of the year. A new iPhone was set to be announced the next week and all rumors pointed to the introduction of the much-anticipated iWatch. Instead, Apple was dealing with the fallout of a massive celebrity photo hack that involved around 500 pictures of mostly nude female celebrities being released to the public. 

Was iCloud Really Hacked?

We hear about major systems being "hacked" several times a year, with companies ranging from Sony to Target to T-Mobile being the victims of a massive hack. And, of course, millions of customers being the true victims. In these cases, hackers generally either break into the systems remotely, use some type of hardware device at the actual store to steal information or have someone within the corporation provide the details needed to hack into the system.

The "iCloud Hack" didn't fall into any of these categories. In fact, iCloud wasn't hacked. The individual accounts of the celebrities were hacked. So hackers didn't get access to all of the photos stored ​on iCloud, only the photos stored by those individual accounts. 

That won't make Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst and the other celebrities that were victimized feel any better, but it does make this case more like Scarlett Johansson's phone being hacked than Target's servers being hacked.

Should You Turn off iCloud's Photo Stream or iCloud Photo Library?

We recommend turning off Photo Stream if you are constantly banging your head against the limits of your storage space. iCloud Photo Library also uses up space on your iPad or iPhone, but you can choose to download optimized versions of the photos if storage space is a concern. 

We would not recommend turning it off because of this hack. The accounts were specifically targeted because of the celebrity status of the victims, and unless you are a celebrity, you should be safe.

However, it is important to realize that almost any system can be hacked. We've seen too many major companies fall victim to hacking, including banks and the government. While using Photo Stream or iCloud Photo Library as a way to backup all of your photos and/or sync them to your other devices is relatively safe, we would ​not recommend using any cloud-based system to store nude or inappropriate photos or videos. 

Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Library are great services for those who take a lot of photos with their iPhone or iPad. With no major breach of iCloud as a whole, there is no reason to think your photos (or any other information you choose to store on iCloud) are in any danger.

How Do I Turn off Photo Stream or iCloud Photo Library?

If this case makes you uncomfortable storing your photos on the cloud, you can easily turn the features off by going into the device settings, choosing iCloud from the left-side menu, tapping the Photos button in the iCloud settings and turning off "iCloud Photo Library" and/or "My Photo Stream."

You can continue to share photos among your devices by keeping iCloud Photo Sharing turned on and using shared Photo Streams. This will create a temporary copy of the photo on iCloud, but you can choose which photos to share.