More than 4.6 million people entered 2014 with a little less privacy after hackers published phone numbers and aciITcount information from the smartphone app Snapchat on New Year’s Eve.
Although smartphone users used the app to share 10-second pictures of their festivities, the website SnapchatDB.info uploaded phone numbers and user Inames from 4,609,621 accounts from 78 area codes across the U.S. and Canada.
The website censored the last two digits of each phone number to prevent spam and abuse, but it will possibly release the uncensored database to interested parties “under certain circumstances.”
“Having my account leaked — it made me fearful of using social media and what it’s capable of,“ said Laura Turk, an 18-year-old UF industrial and systems engineering freshman.
According to a statement published on the website, the leak was intended to bring public attention to the flaws in the Snapchat security pointed out in a Christmas Day report posted by Australia-based security research company Gibson Security.
The report was publicly released after attempts to privately contact Snapchat were unsuccessful. It provided the previously unpublished code needed to match numbers with names and create fake accounts.
“Privacy is overstated on some of these social media platforms,” said Bruce Floyd, UF social media specialist. “The idea that you can post an image of yourself or something with the promise that only the intended viewer will see it is wishful thinking.”
In a blog post published Jan. 2, Snapchat promised to release an update that will allow users to opt out of the Find Friends part of the application and improve restrictions and rate limiting to prevent future attacks. The post also stated that pictures sent through the app were not leaked and only usernames and phone numbers were accessed.
Additional websites have been set up by Gibson Security and other corporations for users to determine whether individual account information was leaked.
Criticism from social media experts regarding its supposed privacy and its origin as a sexting app did not stop Snapchat from becoming one of the most downloaded apps of 2013, but it remains to be seen whether the leak has any effect on its usage.
“I’m going to keep using it even though it annoys me a little bit that my number got leaked,” said Kenneth Fernandez, a 19-year-old UF exploratory engineering freshman. “I can’t really do anything about it. My number is out there even if I stop using it.”
A version of this story ran on page 7 on 1/9/2014 under the headline "Snapchat apologizes for hacking, introduces preventative measures"