Nude celebs on iCloud? The timing for Apple Inc. couldn’t be worse.

September 2, 2014, 1:06 PM UTC

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 8.49.52 AMThe story had everything going for it. Hundreds of nude photos (some real) of Jennifer Lawrence and other A-list Hollywood celebrities. A security vulnerability (since closed) in Apple’s iCloud. Hackers armed with a new “brute force” attack script. False accusations by amateur detectives on the Internet. Investigations launched by both Apple and the FBI.

Never mind that Apple does a pretty good job of keeping its customers’ secrets safe — better than, say, Google (GOOG), which doesn’t control Android hardware and derives most of its revenue from selling user data to advertisers.

For Apple, says Stratechery‘s Ben Thompson, the timing couldn’t be worse.

“Ultimately,” he writes, “it doesn’t really matter if the hack is or is not Apple’s fault; the damage has been done. The “iCloud” name is associated with this mess, which is bad enough; what is more distressing is that Apple is allegedly unveiling a new payment capability with the iPhone 6. That, obviously, requires a high degree of security and consumer trust, and now, every article about said payments will likely mention this hack.

“The thing is, iCloud almost certainly has nothing to do with the security of the payment system; [Daring Fireball’s] John Gruber hinted that payment information would be stored in a secure enclave on the A8 chip (like TouchID fingerprints), and truth be told, there are few companies I would trust more to properly implement this sort of hardware-based integrated solution.

“Most, though, won’t make such a distinction; iCloud is an Apple-branded product just as much as the A8 chip, even though us close observers know that Apple has never really done the cloud well. However, with this episode, that final point has now moved from being a funny joke — “Apple sucks at the cloud haha” — to a serious problem for Apple. Either the break-in was because of this iCloud bug, in which case Apple is obviously at fault, or it was some other hack which won’t matter because people are conditioned to assume iCloud sucks. That’s the crux of the issue: it’s very easy to assume that this is Apple’s fault not because they are Apple but because iCloud and all of their other cloud services have been so bad for so long.

“And now, one of Tim Cook’s signature-rollouts is going to be tarnished.”

LINK: Celebrity Photos and iCloud (behind a paywall)

UPDATE: Apple issued a press release Tuesday to say that “None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud or Find my iPhone.” An independent investigation by Nik Cubrilovic came to a similar conclusion.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed.