Warning to UAE Snapchat users over hacks and privacy

Cyber security experts say that many users, including children, are not doing enough to protect themselves while using the popular social media app

BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 27:  In this photo illustration the app of Snapchat is displayed on a smartphone on September 27, 2016 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo Illustration by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
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Snapchat, the social media platform favoured by tweens and teenagers, has safety and privacy concerns that users and parents should be aware of, cyber security experts say.

The app where users post images and videos of what they are up to could be sharing information on children’s whereabouts if they have opted into the new Snap Maps feature, and experts say it can easily be hacked if a user has a simple password that they do not change regularly.

Snapchat is on course to overtake both Instagram and Facebook in terms of total users among the 12 to 24 age group but many parents are unaware of its features and how they work.

“There are a number of safety issues with Snapchat that even the police in the United Kingdom and United States have issued warnings about,” said Matthew Cochran, chairman of the Defense Services Marketing Council UAE, which operates in the defence, space and security industries. “There are concerns not only for adults using Snapchat but also for children.

“There are a couple of features that enable hackers to easily hack a Snapchat account. For instance, a Snapchat user that does not change their passwords regularly, using a username that can be easily Googled, [put themselves at risk].

“One of the biggest risks that has emerged recently is Snapchat Maps. Users who are not familiar with the Snapchat privacy rules may not know how to turn on or off the map, which will reveal the user’s precise location any time they open Snapchat.

“Also, there are data leaks almost all the time.”


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In April, Indian hackers claimed to have posted the personal details of 1.7 million Snapchat users on the deep web after Snapchat boss Evan Spiegel allegedly called India a “poor country”. He denied he said it but since Indian users have been boycotting the app, using hashtags such as #UninstallSnapchat and #BoycottSnapchat on Twitter.

In the UAE in July the youngest member of the FNC fell victim to a Snapchat hacker who used his account to insult the Qatari royals.

The hacker posted to 32-year-old Saeed Al Remeithi’s 330,000 followers insulting pictures of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and his mother, Sheikha Mouza Al Mesnad before ridiculing Qataris in general.

Another concern for young users is the fact that images can be screengrabbed and saved, which counters the common belief that what they post is safe because it is automatically removed after just a few seconds.

“Snapchat users post stuff thinking that they will only appear temporarily. However, they can be screenshot, so users should be more aware and careful with the posts they share,” said Mr Cochran.

Rami Azzam, of IT Sec, a computer security company, said that parents should monitor their children’s use of Snapchat.

“Snapchat is relatively young and usually young users use it. Some users ignore using the safety measures and others are unaware of them and think that the post will be temporary,” said Mr Azzam, 33.

“Any application can be hacked unless the user runs security features. I advise users to send their posts only to trusted people, not to use an easy passwords, and to be educated about privacy measures.”

Only last week a malware researcher found a spamming operation that has been drawing on a list of some 711.5 million email addresses, in some cases with associated passwords, to help spread banking malware.

This comes at a time when Snapchat is on the rise among young people. Experts forecast that it will grow to take 41 per cent of the social media market in the US, while it’s expected to be used by 21 per cent of the population.

Its popularity among youngsters is driven by the fact it is less word and more visually led and because it can be used as a space away from adults, where teenagers can express themselves.

Jumana Yousef, a mother of three, said that all her children aged between 12 and 16 use Snapchat.

“Recently, I started reading about Snapchat and found many websites speaking about Snapchat hacking attempts,” said Mrs Yousef.

“I try to control the content that my children are exposed to via Snapchat. However, sometimes they do not let me check their accounts and they have passwords on their phones.”