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Data protection & security

How to protect your mobile identity in light of the Snapchat breach

How to protect your mobile identity in light of the Snapchat breach


Perhaps the most widespread new app craze of 2013 surrounded Snapchat, the photo and video messaging application that had some in the tech sphere predicting the death of texting. But despite the enthusiasm evinced by many proponents of the app, Snapchat may not be as safe as previously assumed.

Recently, the researchers at Gibson Security released proof-of-concept code that revealed a security vulnerability in Snapchat's Find Friends feature, which allows users to locate people they might want to communicate with via the app. The background to the exploit is quite technical, but the seriousness of its implications is clear: The glitch could enable hackers to pair Snapchat usernames with individuals' phone numbers. 

Not long after news of the vulnerability became widespread, a site allegedly containing a database with the matched phone numbers and Snapchat account names of 4.6 million users turned up on the Web. The hackers who compiled, however, claim they have good intentions.

"This database contains username and phone number pairs of a vast majority of the Snapchat users. This information was acquired through the recently patched Snapchat exploit and is being shared with the public to raise awareness on the issue," the site's creators wrote. They also faulted the company with not responding quickly enough to Gibson Security's revelation of the vulnerability.

Whatever the intentions of, the site makes it chillingly clear how the information from the breach might be used in privacy-violating ways.

"People tend to use the same username around the Web so you can use this information to find phone number information associated with Facebook and Twitter accounts, or simply to figure out the phone numbers of people you wish to get in touch with," noted the database's compilers.

Snapchat attempts to fix security snag
The app's creators haven't been entirely absent in the wake of these events. The company recently announced in an official blog post that it had released a software updated for the app that lets users choose whether or not they want to pair their phone numbers with their usernames in the Find Friends feature. The post also noted that the team was "sorry for any problems this issue may have caused" its customers.

Take security into your own hands
Well-intentioned though Snapchat's efforts may be, concerned users will surely want to up their caution when it comes to using the program. Here are three best practices for Snapchat security you should be sure to implement in light of the app's recent privacy troubles.

  1. Sign on for the opt-out: First and foremost, be sure you take advantage of the fix that the Snapchat team has provided for users. The company pointed out that you can turn on the feature that allows you to opt of pairing your number with your username by simply going into Settings and selecting this option under Mobile #.
  2. Manage your contacts: Snapchat is an interpersonal app by nature, so it's vital to apply the utmost caution when it comes to controlling who can reach you and access your information via the program. Queensland, Australia's Department of Education, Training and Employment noted that users can configure the app so they only receive messages from existing contacts, in addition to blocking certain other users.
  3. Know what data Snapchat accesses: The agency also pointed out that Snapchat collects a wide variety of information about its users: email address, Facebook username and a number of data points about the identity of the device. It's important to bear in mind that Snapchat is a data-sensitive app and limit who can find you via the program accordingly.

In the event that an app compromises your smartphone, ProtectCELL's data and identity protection plans pick up where mobile phone insurance leaves off, providing resources that help you manage and protect the sensitive information stored on your device.

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