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Bush, celebrity hacks raise profile of privacy concerns

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Photos and correspondence from half a dozen e-mail accounts linked to the Bush family, including information about former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, brings discussion of personal online privacy issues into sharp focus.

Members of the Bush family and their close acquaintances found late Thursday that a hacker — self-styled “Guccifer” — bragged about compromising half a dozen Bush family and acquaintances accounts and posted the information online. In an interview with the Smoking Gun, which published the photos and conversation experts, the hacker said that at least some of the photos came from an AOL account belonging to George H.W. Bush’s daughter, Dorothy Bush Koch. A family spokesman confirmed the attack to The Washington Post on Friday.

AOL did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the breach.

The highly personal information in the files, including details about the elder Bush’s hospitalization and painted self-portraits of George W. Bush in the shower — may make many reexamine the kind of information they’re putting online and storing in their e-mail accounts.

And e-mail is not the only avenue for technological privacy invasions. News of the Bush family breach comes as British courts announced that 144 people -- including celebrities such as Hugh Grant and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, — would receive damages as a result of the phone-hacking scandal that ultimately ended the run of the British tabloid, News of the World. As the Guardian reported, 17 individuals demanded public apologies from the defunct newspaper’s publisher, News International.

Most people won’t be targets of cyber crime in the same way that high-profile celebrities are, but everyone’s lingering digital footprints provide rich caches of personal information to those who want it.

Cyber criminals are happiest when information is easy to get, so while consumers may not have much agency when it comes to protecting themselves against company-wide attacks, they can make it more difficult for hackers looking to smash and grab attacks on personal accounts.

Using password protection on phones and voicemail is a good first step, as is taking the admittedly painful step of not reusing your e-mail password for other accounts. That reduces the risk that your e-mail will be hacked if you are hit with an attack on an unrelated site. It’s also a good practice for users to take their most sensitive information out of the cloud and store them locally — or on a protected thumb drive if they need the portability. There could be traces of data you delete from e-mail servers that can be accessed by hackers, but there’s certainly no need to make it easy for them.

Related stories: Microsoft hits Google with e-mail privacy campaign Google leads fight to limit government access to e-mail on cloud What the Manti Te’o hoax teaches us about the power of social media Sign up today to receive #thecircuit, a daily roundup of the latest tech policy news from Washington and how it is shaping business, entertainment and science.

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