Have Your Online Galleries Been Hacked?
Today in one of the boudoir forums that I frequent, a member posted about her discovery that there was a forum for voyeurs who were hacking their way in to boudoir galleries online. They weren’t stopping at boudoir galleries though — they were logging in to family galleries, and I’m sure other session galleries.
These people weren’t using the usual hacking methods though, at least not at first. They were actually just finding the path to the gallery and from there guessing the password.
Oh, and they started the thread in 2012. [Corrected. This post originally said November, 2013.]
It just took us until 2014 to find out about it.
More recent posts on the thread talked about using extortion to get money from the women in the galleries that they had found. Yes, threatening to post photos to Facebook unless they were paid off.
Then there were the threads about how they had figured out that they could potentially “scrape” all of the galleries from Red Cart, gaining EVERY PHOTO POSTED there. Boudoir or not. Boudoir was what they were after though.
They weren’t just going after online proofing sites (SmugMug, ZenFolio, and RedCart were all mentioned in their thread), but they were also going after online album proofing sites.
Now you might think that your online gallery software or your album proofing company should be doing something to protect you from this hacking. The thing is, if you read their Terms of Service? Every single one of them has an “out” written in to their contract. It is your responsibility to make sure your passwords are secure. Beyond that, if someone gets in to them? Not their fault. (*I could argue that RedCart has a bigger issue on their hands if they were figuring out how to pull down every image on their site. Right now isn’t the time for arguing. Right now is the time to FIX THIS situation.*)
UPDATE: If you are a Zenfolio user, a photographer started a feature suggestion that people can only guess a password 3 times before being locked out of a gallery. If any of you would vote for it, please go here.
The forum has now moved the post to their “Member’s Only” section, so we can’t see what they have added to it at this point. At the time that the post was moved, the thread was 121 pages long.
Thing is, this may be the one forum that we know about, but I promise you – it is NOT the only forum out there with information like this.
Protecting Your Clients
Ok, now that we are all sufficiently panicked about this, let’s talk about what we can DO about it.
1. Never post your client’s images online, ANYWHERE. Realistically, that is the only safe & secure method to use. I went that route a few years ago when we caught someone trying to hack (truly hack, not just guess at passwords) their way in to my online gallery software that I hosted on my own server. I don’t post my boudoir client’s images online. We meet in person to view the images. (I’ve talked before about my whole In Person Viewing process in these posts: overcoming your fear of in person sales sessions, boudoir photography workflow – preparing for in person sales and the magic of in person sales sessions.)
I do however use an online album proofing company and an online slideshow option. I am considering discontinuing both of those services after today.
But I HAVE to do Online Proofing! (Insert reason here.)
Ok, so option #1 isn’t an option for you, for whatever reason. You simply must post your photos online for them to see them.
2. Use a SECURE password. Using your client’s name? Not a secure password. Using “boudoir”? Not a secure password. Using “sexy”? Not a secure password. These and many more obviously easy to guess passwords were being passed around in this forum. An entire boudoir photographer’s gallery was linked, and every single session used the first name as the password. Yes, they worked. No, that is NOT secure. WORDS, no matter how unique they are to your client, are not secure.
(Want to learn more than you ever wanted to know about password security? Wired Magazine – Secure Passwords Keep You Safer and the scary story of how Mat Honan’s entire world was hacked, Wired Magazine – Kill the Password: Why a String of Characters Can’t Protect Us Anymore.)
Make sure you understand that too. No password is ever completely safe. It is not a matter of if you will be hacked, it is a matter of when. You need to put photos online with that understanding.
From now on, if I ever have to put a gallery online for any reason, I will require my clients to sign a special release for the gallery going online. This is something you should consider not just for boudoir sessions, but for any client. Make sure your client is aware that the photographs could be compromised. For example, some parents do not want their children’s photos viewed by anyone.
4. Be obscure about where your galleries are located at. “One of the best security measures in the online world is “obscurity” otherwise known as “security through obscurity”.
Basically if you have online galleries that you want protected, don’t add them to your main gallery list or your site’s navigation. At Fotomerchant we call them “ghost” pages and only people you give the unique URL to will even know the page exists.
Also, make sure the pages are NOT listed in your sitmap.xml and that your robots.txt does not allow full site crawling and then Google will never know they exist either… Unless you post a link to the gallery somewhere public!
Obscurity is one of the only measures that requires human knowledge in order to crack it” — Derek Clapham, co-founder of FotoMerchant, in response to a private forum post I made about this situation this afternoon.
However, private, hidden, unsearchable galleries were on that list that we discovered. Just making it obscure wasn’t enough for them when they were determined. In some cases, “they were able to find these hidden pages due to the nature of their URL design. It was predictable and based on a number sequence”, said Derek.
5. Pull expired galleries offline. When possible, use FTP to make sure the images are completely removed. If you let the gallery expire and it is still online, the photographs are still stored on a server somewhere. Servers can be hacked, your files can be accessed. Remove them from the server completely when you are done with the gallery or album proof.
Once something goes online, it is never completely safe
Even if you do all of the things listed above, are your client’s photos still secure?
No, they are not.
Hidden, not listed, not linked, unsearchable galleries? ALL were in that post discovered today.
Once these people found the easy to target galleries, they pushed on to find the harder to discover ones. They figured out how to move up and down the gallery structure of the software. How to change the string text to get to a gallery. They kept looking. For almost two years they have been looking. Some in the thread mentioned “let me check my documents of the ones I’ve gotten in to” — so even if this thread disappears, there are others out there, and private files that people keep.
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