When private pictures go public it's always embarrassing, especially when you're a celebrity and the whole world wants to look.
The latest star to fall prey to a nude-pic hack is Paramore's Hayley Williams, who told her 600,000-plus Twitter followers on Thursday that someone had jacked her account. The tweet was in response to a topless photo of the 21-year-old singer that began making the rounds that day, which Williams alleged was sent out without her consent by someone who cracked her Twitpic account, but which some online reports suggested may have been accidentally posted by the singer and then quickly removed — but not before it began rocketing across the Internet.
Internet privacy and security lawyer Dr. Parry Aftab — who was one of the experts in MTV's recent "Sexting in America: When Privates Go Public" special — said on Friday (May 28) that there are a number of relatively simple ways to make sure your private business stays that way.
"It all starts with good digital hygiene," said Aftab. "It's like brushing your teeth twice a day so you won't get cavities and won't offend the person sitting across from you. The first step is picking a password that's easy to remember but hard to get."
Aftab said the mistake most people make is choosing a password from the "20 questions" list, which includes such obvious things as your middle name, favorite sports team, the street you live on or your pet's name, all information that is easy to obtain if you are a public figure. That, she noted, is how a kid from France was able to hack President Obama's Twitter account earlier this year by guessing that the leader of the free world used the first dog Bo's name as his password.
"If you don't use a password that's hard to guess, anyone can figure it out, but you also don't want one that's so hard for you to remember that you have to write it down, because then someone can find it," she warned.
The other hygienic practice she recommends is not pre-saving passwords on computers, iPads or other digital devices. Though it is a time saver and might help you avoid fumbling for the right password, Aftab said if anyone else uses the device, it could spell trouble. "If you have an assistant or you share the device with a friend — or someone you think is your friend — it allows them access to all your special stuff," she said. "And that's like pre-saving your ATM number. You just don't want to store that on any device that someone else can access. It's like locking your door instead of leaving it wide open."
And while Aftab recommends keeping intimate moments completely private, if you are going to sext, she said to remove the salacious images from any device where they can be shared. "If you're taking a naked picture, the best thing is not to text it," she said. "You're better off printing it out and handing it to him, but even that can be scanned and texted out. Anything in a digital format exists forever, and you can never really protect it. It's the law of negativity in the universe: If it's there, it will be found."
If you are a victim of a sexy picture gone viral, Aftab said the next best thing you can do is stop it as fast as you can. "When you're on Twitter and your followed by a gazillion people you can't really stop it," she said. "But you can try to delete it. If someone hacked it or it got sent out by accident, which happens all the time, that's why you don't keep it in a place where it can be sent out accidentally by clicking a button."
Aftab doesn't just issue warnings and advice, she has also been working with Twitter on a Verified Twitter program that is now in beta testing and is similar to the one she set up Faceook called the Certified Celebrity Program. "My consulting firm [Wired Trust] is doing it as a free service for celebrities to confirm who they are, so Facebook will protect those pages and nobody can try to take them over unless they're authorized though a special thing we have set up through Facebook," she said.
Like the Facebook program, the new Twitter tool will allow celebrities to keep their profiles on lock and, if need be, act quickly in case something goes awry.
"If Twitter knows you're a verified celebrity and something happens, there's a special contact that can shut things down in a heartbeat," she said.
Celebrities aren't the only ones vulnerable to digital drama. Go to MTV's AThinLine.org
to learn what you can do to protect yourself.