Snapchat has announced plans to release an updated version of its disappearing photo-sharing app after hackers uploaded account information belonging to more than 4.6 million users online.
The data was comprised of usernames and mobile phone numbers with the last two digits redacted, with the hackers claiming that they were working to “raise public awareness on how reckless many internet companies are with user information.”
The situation has been particularly troubling for Snapchat,following claims from Australian-based security group Gibson Security that they informed the company about the vulnerability in their code twice last year.
Snapchat’s relatively sluggish response to the issue (Gibson Security say they contacted the company in August and on Christmas day, before the stolen data was uploaded online by an unknown group on New Year’s day) has led to speculation that the app’s extremely rapid growth has left it unprepared for such a high-profile security breach.
“The main problem was that they ignored a responsible report by security researchers,” said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Soghoian noted that it’s common practice for independent experts to expose flaws in technology company’s products, and that large companies such as Google and Microsoft welcome these reports, offering cash bounties for every vulnerability reported.
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“Snapchat may be too small to pay bounties, but they certainly should be treating researchers with respect and addressing issues as soon as they are told about them,” he added.
Snapchat was founded in 2011 and currently has no source of revenue, but its ability to attract an estimated userbase of 20 million adult users in the US led to Facebook offering a reported $3bn (£1.8bn) to buy the company in 2013.
Snapchat co-founder and CEO, the 23-year-old Evan Spiegel, turned down the offer and has since attracted significant venture capital investment, with a recent round of funding led by Chinese e-commerce giant Tencent Holdings valuing Snapchat at $4bn.
In a blog post on their site the company confirmed that the vulnerability in their app lay with their recently-added ‘Find Friends’ feature, “an optional service that asks Snapchatters to enter their phone number so that their friends can find their username.”
“We will be releasing an updated version of the Snapchat application that will allow Snapchatters to opt out of appearing in Find Friends after they have verified their phone number,” said the company in an online statement. “We’re also improving rate limiting and other restrictions to address future attempts to abuse our service.”
Additional reporting by agencies