Following news that as many as 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers were captured on its site and posted on the Web, social video company Snapchat said late Thursday it will release a new version of the vulnerable app. The company’s response to the breach raises more questions about how prepared businesses are to deal with such leakages of their confidential info, which are becoming more common.
The company has come under heavy criticism for its relatively slow response to addressing the problem, especially since the security group that discovered the flaw, Sydney, Australia-based Gibson Security, first reported it in August. A follow-up warning was published on Christmas Eve. Some of the criticism has been directed at Snapchat’s lack of apology for ignoring the warnings.
In its initial announcement in August, Gibson Security noted that the data obtained from the Snapchat vulnerability “could hypothetically be used to stalk” users, or it could be sold to companies that use the data in conjunction with other databases to create a more complete confidential data profile of users.
Encouraging Users to Find Friends
In a posting Thursday on its official blog, Snapchat noted that it first implemented Find Friends in the early days of the company, in order to encourage people to find other friends using the service. With the optional Find Friends, a user can enter a phone number into a profile, allowing offline friends to find the Snapchat username through the number.
Last Friday, Snapchat acknowledged the vulnerability that Global Security had highlighted. An attacker could upload a large number of random phone numbers, such as from a phone book, and then acquire large numbers of matching Snapchat usernames.
That’s exactly what happened on New Year's Eve, when a hacker or a group calling itself SnapchatDB! posted a database of phone numbers, usernames and the users’ regions. Snapchat said no other data was compromised. The hacker was apparently trying to operate at least partially in “white hat” warning mode, blocking out the last two digits of each phone number. But the posted database also contains the offer for anyone to submit an email to request the unredacted phone numbers, which would be considered “under certain circumstances.”
‘Reluctant at Patching the Exploit’
The information, SnapchatDB! said on the site, “is being shared with the public to raise awareness on the issue.” It added that Snapchat was “too reluctant at patching the exploit until they knew it was too late.” Gibson Security has said it has no connection to the hackers, and the company has criticized the posting of the user data. Gibson has also published a tool on its site so that users can find out if they’re in the purloined database. (continued...)