iCloud is a Cloud computing service offered by Apple Inc. It was launched on October 12, 2011. iCloud allows users to store different forms of data such as multimedia, documents and application data on secure remote servers through the internet. iCloud offers multiple plans based on storage allowance: 5GB for free, 50GB for $0.99/month, 200GB for $2.99/month and 2TB for $9.99/month . As of 2018, iCloud had roughly 850 million users. iCloud offers a wide variety of useful features such as allowing users to store different forms of data such as multimedia, documents, and application data on secure remote servers through the internet. However, Apple has faced multiple security issues with iCloud which have brought up discussions on the ethical implications of cloud storage.
Apple originally launched MobileMe, a collection of online services for iOS and Mac OS users in 2000 under the name iTools. It was rebranded to MobileMe in July 2008 and was Apple’s only cloud service until iCloud launched in 2011, replacing MobileMe. Apple discontinued MobileMe in 2012, offering free service to all MobileMe users until its discontinuation. iCloud gained 20 million users in its first week after launch. Some unhappy customers filed a lawsuit against Apple in 2012 for the transition from MobileMe to iCloud.
iCloud offers a plethora of features, ranging from storage to devise locators. iCloud’s feature set can be broken down into the following:
iCloud Photo is a feature that allows users to store all their photos on iCloud rather than their phone’s physical storage. Photos can then be accessed through the Photos app or through iCloud.com. Users can also create shared albums that can be viewed by multiple users with iCloud accounts.
iCloud Drive is a feature that allows users to store all their documents on iCloud. Through iCloud Drive, users can upload any file of their choice and can seamlessly make changes on multiple devices.
Find My Device
Find my iPhone and Mac are location-based search features offered by Apple. Using GPS, users can log into iCloud and find the most recent location for all of their Apple products, including iPhone, iPad, Mac, AirPods, etc.
Find My Friends
Similar to Find My Device, Find My Friends allows users to give other Apple device users access to their location and allows them to find each other using GPS location services.
Other applications also take advantage of iCloud’s backup, such as iMessage which backs up all message history on iCloud and Contacts which backs up all user contacts on iCloud.
iCloud employs a wide range of protocols and features in order to keep user information secure. iCloud encrypts all data in transit and in storage and requires authentication tokens in order to view information on iCloud servers. Apple implemented end-to-end encryption, which means that only the end-user is able to view their information, not even Apple. End-to-end encryption requires two-factor authentication to be enabled for the user’s Apple ID. Apple utilizes AES encryption for most of iCloud’s services with exceptions in iCloud.com and Mail, which utilize TLS 1.2. An iCloud security flaw was discovered for Safari, which prompted discussions on the effectiveness of the security protocols opted for by Apple .
On August 31st, 2014, a large collection of private images was leaked and posted online . These images were obtained from celebrities’ private iCloud accounts using popular hacking mechanisms such as Spear Phishing and Brute Force attacks. One attacker created an email account called “appleprivacysecurity” in order to trick celebrities into assuming the email’s authenticity and requested private information from them in order to gain access to their accounts. The private images obtained included nude photographs of various celebrities and were uploaded to the web under the term “The Fappening”. These images were released in three waves, dubbed “The Fappening”, “The Fappening 2” and “The Fappening 3”. Multiple celebrities condemned the release of these images and pursued legal action to ensure that these images would be removed from the internet.
This leak of images from iCloud started an ethical discussion on cloud-based storage services. iCloud was created to be a safe and private storage space, but it contained fatal security vulnerabilities that gave attackers access to private information. It raises the question of whether sensitive information should be trusted to be stored on the cloud rather than local storage. An online repository possesses many more potential security vulnerabilities than physical storage and has a significantly larger number of entry points which makes it easier to gain access to. Therefore, services such as iCloud and Dropbox (an iCloud competitor) have strong ethical implications that are directly tied to their security policies and strength. Apple is a company that places a lot of emphasis on privacy, with many advertisements based solely on Apple’s promise to keep user data private and this emphasis has allowed users to keep using iCloud’s services without any further security concerns since 2014.
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- ICloud security overview. (2019, November 18). Retrieved March 27, 2020, from https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202303
- Simon, M. (2019, April 15). How Apple's iCloud authentication system fails to protect your account when using a browser. Retrieved March 27, 2020, from https://www.macworld.com/article/3387518/apple-icloud-2fa-flaws.html
- iCloud leaks of celebrity photos. (2020, March 13). Retrieved March 13, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICloud_leaks_of_celebrity_photos