Since its creation in mid-2011 by two Stanford dropouts, Snapchat has rapidly grown from an unknown startup to a ubiquitous piece of software that seems to appear on everyone’s smartphone these days. The photo-sharing app allows users to send temporary photographs to their friends. These photos, which can be embellished with filters, text and user-created drawings, disappear after a short period, typically just a few seconds, selected by the sender. Over 400 million photographs are sent each day by the app’s 30 million active users.
To simply refer to the app as a popular one would be a massive understatement. It’s owners recently turned down acquisition offers from both Facebook and Google for $3 billion and $4 billion, respectively. But this success has just had a pall cast over it.
On New Year’s Eve, the app’s security was breached, which led to the phone numbers and usernames of 4.6 million users being leaked to the public by a group of hackers that wished to draw attention to the vulnerability of the security systems that Snapchat was using to protect personal information. For an app whose very success is predicated on the transient, confidential nature of its content, this revelation is highly disturbing for many users.
In order to assuage user doubts, Snapchat will release an updated version of its app that allows users to disable the “Find Friends” feature, which was directly involved in the security breach.
All of this comes on the heels of two warnings delivered in August and on Christmas Day to Snapchat by Australian security firm Gibson Security that stated that the app had severe vulnerabilities. Although the disabling of the “Find Friends” feature may solve the problem temporarily, the incident does raise several questions regarding privacy in smartphone apps, a subject that has only been tangentially discussed in the media in conjunction with general web privacy.
For those worried that their information may have been compromised, Gibson, the same firm that first warned Snapchat of its security deficiencies, has created a free online tool to help users identify if their information was among that which was leaked. Users can access it by visiting the site http://lookup.gibsonsec.org/ and typing in their username. If their data has been compromised, the website will inform the user.
While it’s far too early to know if this massive leak will end Snapchat’s streak of explosive growth, it may give other brands that traffic in large amounts of confidential data reason to pause and reevaluate their own security. In today’s age of social media, information is a valuable commodity and those who are reckless with it may suffer greatly as consumers turn to more trusted brands.
[Sources: CNN, BusinessInsider]