Mat Honan is a writer for the technology magazine Wired. David Pogue is a technology writer for the New York Times. In one week both of them had experiences which they would never forget in their lives. The only difference between the two is that while Pogue’s experience was terrific, Honan’s was terrifying. Nevertheless their tales have lessons for all of us, particularly we the people, companies that we use, and governments that serve us are all impatient to get onto the cloud.
Pogue’s is a simple but heart warming tale. It started with the theft of his iPhone on a train. Once he realised that he lost his phone, he tried calling it, and finding it using Apple’s ‘Find my iPhone’ service but to no avail as the phone was switched off. While Pogue resigned himself to the fact that he lost his phone, a few days after the theft he got an e-mail confirmation from ‘Find my iPhone’ that his phone was back online and showed him the location on a map. The problem though was that it was in a completely different city. Pogue, being a tech savvy journalist, tweeted to his followers the location of the phone. Unbelievably his followers and a number of technology blogs took up the challenge of finding the phone. The technology blog Gizmodo tracked down the phone to a house using the maps Pogue provided. Some Twitter users identified the neighborhood as rough. Then some found statistics for murder rate in that area and it was decided that Pogue should not approach the thief by himself. A police officer who was following the proceedings online offered to help and contacted his local police department which eventually tracked down his phone. As Pogue put it succinctly, “It’s a story of social media and the Web, teaming up with law enforcement, following a tip from the ‘Find my iPhone’ feature—to reclaim my lost phone in five hours.”
Pogue went home with fond memories of ‘Find my iPhone’ and iCloud. For Mat Honan those two words are a nightmare. It started on a Friday evening when his iPhone suddenly powered down. Within minutes his iPad powered down, he was logged out of his MacBook, all the data on all these three devices was wiped clean, his Twitter account was hijacked, his Gmail account has been deleted. On an unsuspecting evening Honan found his entire digital life erased within a matter of minutes by hackers who just wanted to get access to his Twitter account. As it turned out later accessing his Twitter account for a few laughs was the hacker’s (one of whom is 19) main objective and the loss of Honan’s digital life was just collateral damage. More worryingly, the hackers did not use any of their supposedly great programming skills, but just used some loopholes in Apple’s and Amazon’s security systems by calling up their service centres pretending to be Honan. The result was that Honan lost thousands of pictures, including his child’s first year, eight years of Gmail correspondence and all his documents.
This could happen to any of us. And if efficiently-run organisations like Apple and Amazon can be used to hack into cloud accounts, one can only imagine what kind of nightmares await us when Indian government’s plans to put all the details of 1.2 billion people on cloud services eventually come true. As Telugu people say, probably all you can do is turn to the East and say ‘Govinda Govinda’.
The writer is a tech geek.