In 2014, photo sharing service Snapchat ran afoul of hackers after the company claimed it had no knowledge of any security vulnerabilities. To prove that such loopholes existed, attackers lifted the usernames and phone numbers of 4.6 million Snapchat users and made them available on a public website. Although the site was immediately taken down and Snapchat claims to have updated security measures accordingly, the incident raises several important questions about social media privacy — if companies drop the ball, how do families protect themselves?
If anyone in your family had their number published in the recent hacker database, call your cell phone provider and request a new number. Mentioning the Snapchat hack will likely engender goodwill, and you may be able to get a number change for free. Snapchat has also changed its rules, allowing users to turn off the "Find Friends" feature, which requests their cell number. For increased security, always make sure this setting is switched off.
Changing your password periodically is always a good idea — more so after the Snapchat hack. Even if no one in your family has been affected, improving your password strength never goes amiss. Your best bet for security? Choose a series of words that you can remember but aren't typically related; think of it like a short story with several key words. Alternatively, choose a set of letters, both lowercase and uppercase, numbers and symbols that won't be easily guessed. Just make sure you can also remember the password. Lastly, consider a password management program that will help you manage all of your passwords while providing the right level of encryption.
You may get a phone call or email from someone who claims they work for Snapchat; they don't. For starters, no social media site will contact you by phone, and while companies may occasionally reach out for feedback on the Web, they will never ask for any personal information. Any email that claims your account has been compromised and requires you to provide personal information to "reactivate" it is a lie.
Usernames were part of the data published by Snapchat hackers. In combination with phone numbers, this puts anyone who used their real name — or a portion of their real name — at risk. Ideally, children should choose usernames that don't have anything to do with their real name, age or address. Doing so means even in the event of a total security breach, usernames can't be tied back to real people.
As mentioned above, pictures on Snapchat should disappear forever but don't always vanish. While it's doubtful a large-scale hack like the phone number and username attack will dredge up every photo snapped with the app, all it takes is one picture screen-captured and sent out to the Web at large for it to become public knowledge. To combat this problem, parents need to set up strict guidelines for taking and posting pictures: nothing identifiable, such as school names or addresses, and no photos sent to friends a child does not know in real life. Anonymity protects families while acting as misdirection against those who mean to cause harm.
Internet safety for kids is now largely a discussion of social media; Snapchat is only the most recent example. In addition to the tips mentioned, it's always a good idea for families to rely on reputable antivirus software that features easy-to-use parental controls, even for mobile devices. The Snapchat hackers are proof positive that no social site is perfectly secure, but with the right groundwork and mobile security solution, families can rest easier.