No other information, including Snaps, was leaked or accessed in these attacks.
This has been held up as a key exculpatory point by Snapchat’s defenders: First, they say, phone numbers just aren’t that private, and you can’t really do much harm with them (as you could, say, a person’s credit card number). Second, defenders say, Snapchat’s really private data — the pictures and captions you send to other people — weren’t accessed by hackers.
These are both true, but they’re not reason enough to let Snapchat off the hook.
First, I just don’t buy the claim that phone numbers are harmless. Lots of people consider their mobile numbers private — that is, they aren’t used to the idea that their cellphones, like perhaps their landlines, can be accessed by anyone in the world. (That’s why we get so upset when we get telemarketing or text-message spam on our mobiles — a mobile number feels like a confidential identifier, even if it isn’t really.)
This expectation of privacy might cause you to let your guard down, and this could make Snapchat users vulnerable to new attacks, as security researcher Troy Hunt notes. Now that I have your Snapchat username and phone number, I can send you a fake text from “Snapchat” with a link to a page asking you to type in your password to get a security update. And, boom, I’ve hacked into your account.
And remember that Snapchat is used primarily by young people, including teenagers. A list of private phone numbers and usernames belonging to teens could be very dangerous in the wrong hands — especially when that information is easily cross-referenced with public data (on Facebook, Twitter, et. al.)
Second, regarding the claim that Snapchat’s crown jewels, the Snaps themselves, weren’t leaked. Sure, that’s true, but shouldn’t Snapchat’s cavalier response to this hack prompt us to question the security of everything else about the app?
If a car company acknowledged that it had sold cars with faulty tires — despite experts pointing out that its tires were faulty — we wouldn’t give it any credit because, hey, at least the engines seemed to work OK.
No, instead, we’d question the quality of the engines too. We’d wonder about whether the company was paying enough attention to quality across its products. We should do the same thing with Snapchat.
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