Skip to main content

Bush email hacking a wake up call

By Christopher Wolf, Special to CNN
February 9, 2013 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
President George H.W. Bush, left, and his son President George W. Bush appear at a World Series game in October 2010.
President George H.W. Bush, left, and his son President George W. Bush appear at a World Series game in October 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bush family e-mails were hacked, private contents posted online
  • Chris Wolf: Many offended, some amused, but all concerned about privacy
  • Wolf: Users have options already established to protect private information
  • Wolf: Use password for WiFi, use two-step verification for e-mail

Editor's note: Christopher Wolf leads the privacy and information management practice at Hogan Lovells US LLP and is the founder and co-chairman of the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank dedicated to advancing privacy.

(CNN) -- When news broke that six e-mail accounts belonging to members of the Bush family were hacked and some of the contents posted online, reactions ranged from being offended to amusement.

Many people objected to the leak of family exchanges reflecting contingency planning for the funeral of President George H.W. Bush. If ever a family deserves privacy, it is when dealing with the death, or impending death, of a loved one.

Others seized on the semi-nude bathing self-portraits of President George W. Bush to resume ridicule not seen since he left office.

Christopher Wolf
Christopher Wolf

And virtually everyone took the episode as a warning that "this can happen to you."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The Bush family email hack comes on the heels of reports of hacking at universities and major newspapers, and it follows urgent government warnings against our fragile cybersecurity defenses.

So, do the average users of online e-mail and Web services simply have to assume that hacking will expose their personal messages and photos? Not necessarily.

New York Times says it was hacked
2011: What Chinese hackers look for

The recent spate of security breaches and the attention focused on them will mean that government and businesses will up their game even more to secure our information infrastructure. But the security reinforcement might take time.

In the meantime, people have options to protect their information and themselves. Privacy and data security is a shared responsibility, after all, and users have a role to play.

Some Web-based e-mail services like Google's Gmail offer tools to add an extra layer of protection. Gmail offers a two-step verification to add an extra layer of security.

Such protection erects a double gate against unwanted interception. Through two-step verification, in addition to user name and password, you enter a code that the e-mail provider will send via text, voice call or on a mobile app.

Two-step verification drastically reduces the chances of someone stealing the personal information from your e-mail account because hackers would have to not only get a password and your user name, they would also have to have access to the mobile phone to which the code is sent.

And while you are taking steps to secure your e-mail, you would be well-advised to make sure your WiFi connection is secure.

Wireless routers are ubiquitous, allowing you to share your internet connection and files around the house. But without securing your router, anyone within range can access the websites you visit and may be able to access your personal information. Securing your WiFi router with a password is an easy step to take, and it is often overlooked.

If you want to get a little more technical, take a look at whether the website you are using to transmit information is using HTTPS -- hypertext transfer protocol secure. HTTPS encrypts your data so that it cannot be intercepted during transmission.

You will find that your banking transactions almost always will be conducted through the HTTPS protocol. For an extra level of security, check to see if other websites you use offer HTTPS for transmission.

So instead of throwing up your hands that Web-based e-mail and online data transfers can never be secure, seek out and use the security tools that already exist.

And no matter what your political persuasion, thank the Bush family for the wake-up call.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Christopher Wolf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT