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How safe is Apple Pay?

Shawna Ohm

A new round of hacked celebrity photos hit the web this week - this time featuring former Disney star Vanessa Hudgens, singer Rihanna and actress Gabrielle Union. Now male celebrities are asking if they're the next target for hackers.

This latest attack follows the Apple iCloud hacking of another round of celebrity accounts, which happened just before Apple's big, new product announcement. During the September 9th launch of the iPhone 6, Apple software guru Eddie Cue took the stage and said, “Security is at the core of Apple pay, but so is privacy.”

If celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence were watching the livestream event, chances are they scoffed at that line.

Apple (AAPL) unveiled its new mobile wallet, Apple pay, just days after hackers announced they had accessed the iCloud accounts of dozens of Hollywood’s most high profile celebrities. Nude photos of Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton hit the blogosphere.

So if Apple, one of the world’s biggest companies with as many resources as a small country can’t protect celebrity identities… how will it protect our credit card information?

We asked Shane Smith, co-founder of Contently and author of “Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success,” just how safe Apple Pay is.

“It’s gonna be more secure than a credit card which you can just look at and write down a number, so it’s locked up into a phone which ideally has your thumbprint activation on it, but nothing is completely secure, “ he said.

In fact, thumbprint technology is not foolproof. Less than two weeks after Apple introduced the iPhone 5S’s fingerprint sensor, hackers announced that they’d figured out a way to breach it.

“There’s always this arms race between security experts and hackers or spammers, that they’re always trying to one-up each other, or in a hacker's case go around the thing that [security experts have] built,” said Snow.

The same applies to Apple Pay. “I can’t imagine they’re not [already trying to hack it.] If I were a hacker, I would be.”

In many ways, Apple is the holy grail for hackers, Snow points out. The company has some 800 million peoples’ credit cards on file through iTunes. That means that Apple must devote a significant amount of manpower to security; it also means Apple is a big target for hackers.

But for consumers who are interested in mobile pay, Snow’s advice is clear: Beware the knockoffs. “You can probably trust Apple over some random startup for security,” he said.

“[Apple is] paving the way for the smart wallet thing to happen. There are gonna be startups. There’s gonna be smaller competitors coming into this space that aren’t going to be able to afford the kind of [security] setup Apple is working on. So I guarantee there will be security breaches in the smart wallet space, probably the little players first,” said Snow.

But if you want a simple read on how safe mobile wallets are, Snow has a simple analogy – It’s as safe as a lock on your door.