Will teens be scared off by Snapchat hack? Probably not

Theft of Snapchat user names and phone numbers more embarrassing than damaging

Snapchat, a social media company with a popular photo-messaging app, has taken a blow with a recent hack affecting 4.6 million users.

Whether the break-in will hurt the fledgling company remains to be seen.

"The hack makes them appear unsecure and their lead value is tied to security, since the photos disappear, so this exposure conflicts with their lead value and could hurt them more than the same thing would hurt a traditional social network as a result," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group.

News sites reported earlier this week that hackers grabbed the user names and phone numbers of 4.6 million Snapchat users. However, the hackers didn't just steal the information. They posted it online to an account that has since been shut down.

The break-in came about a week after a security group warned of a vulnerability found in Snapchat.

It has been an embarrassing blow for Snapchat, a photo messaging app that pioneered self-destructing messages and has became a teen phenom.

On Dec. 27, the company in a blog post wrote about a group that allegedly posted documentation for the app's private API, including an allegation regarding a possible attack and compilation of a database of Snapchat usernames and phone numbers.

"Over the past year we've implemented various safeguards to make it more difficult to do," the company wrote in the post. "We recently added additional counter-measures and continue to make improvements to combat spam and abuse."

Enderle noted that by posting user names and phone numbers, the hack has been more embarrassing than damaging for Snapchat and its users. It would have been much worse if more personal information, such as addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers had been revealed, he said.

However, Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said that since the majority of Snapchat's users are teenagers, the breach might not be a permanent problem for the company.

"While this hack doesn't provide a monetary loss, it is an invasion of privacy, which is disturbing since so many of its users are teenagers," Moorhead said. "Teenagers, in particular, are undaunted by security issues like this. If images or videos were leaked, however, it could be catastrophic for Snapchat."

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said his own teenagers hadn't heard about the hack and weren't concerned when he told them about it.

"They don't care," he said. "The concept of the threat is really something they don't understand. Parents, however, should be aware of it."

Roger Thompson, chief emerging threat researcher at ICSA Labs, a testing and certification firm, noted in an email to Computerworld that this is yet another reminder for users to be careful about what information they put online and offer to websites and apps.

"Security and functionality tend to exist in an inverse relationship," said Thompson. "The more functional you make a system, the less secure it tends to be. Web-based systems like Snapchat are built for functionality, so we should not be surprised that hackers found a vulnerability in a new, highly functional system. The hole will be patched, and hackers will look for new ones. It's almost a cost of doing business."

He added that users need to make sure they use a different password for every app and website they use.

This article, Will teens be scared off by Snapchat hack? Probably not, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "Will teens be scared off by Snapchat hack? Probably not" was originally published by Computerworld.

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