by Richard van Hooijdonk, keynote speaker, trend watcher and futurist
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are among the most popular social media networks today. In fact, chances are that you already have an account on some of these platforms. Statistics show that 42 per cent of the global population uses social media, and that number just keeps growing. The proliferation of smartphone use and widespread internet access are making social media more appealing to a wider range of users.
Besides sharing photos and communicating with our friends and family, social media can also be used for business purposes. The majority of businesses are realising that having a social media presence is a fast and inexpensive way to engage with consumers. For instance, 80 per cent of Instagram users follow at least one business. However, just like any other technology today, social media is accompanied by cybersecurity risks, and any business can become the target of a cyber-attack.
Twitter – hackers’ new holy grail
The consequences of a cyber-attack can be far more devastating than you might think. In 2017, Russian hackers managed to hack into a computer used by a Pentagon senior official. The official came across a tweet with a link that advertised affordable vacation trips. The tweet wasn’t as innocent as it seemed, though, and in reality, it was a virus created by Russian hackers. Soon after opening the link, the employee’s computer and all of his contacts were infected with a virus.
Moreover, The Verge reported that Russian government agents have sent tweets to 10,000 employees at the US Department of Defense. The tweets featured links to stories about major sporting events and the Oscars, which were being held at that time. But once they accessed the link, it would be forwarded to a server that would allow the agents to take control of the computer. It wasn’t revealed whether any account or device was compromised, nor how the Pentagon managed to resolve these incidents. Earlier, security agencies warned the public not to open emails containing suspicious files and links. But it seems that cyber-attacks have become more sophisticated, and hackers have moved to social media to conduct cybercrime.
The biggest cyber-attack in Facebook’s history exposed millions of accounts to hackers
Twitter isn’t the only social media platform prone to cyber-threats. Recently, Facebook witnessed a cyber-attack in which 50 million accounts were exposed to hackers. The attackers used a vulnerability found in Facebook’s ‘view as’ feature, thanks to which users are able to see how their accounts look to other users. By taking advantage of this vulnerability, the hackers stole Facebook access tokens. As Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice-president of product management, commented to the BBC: “Access tokens are the equivalent of digital keys that keep people logged in to Facebook so they don’t need to re-enter their password every time they use the app.” Using these tokens, hackers can take over accounts and access users’ private information. Furthermore, it gives hackers a chance to log into accounts on other sites that users accessed via Facebook. These includes sites such as Tinder and Airbnb.
Facebook says that no credit card information was stolen, and that users’ private messages weren’t compromised. However, due to the attack, Facebook’s shares fell by three per cent. The company has fixed the vulnerability, but it’s still unclear who the target was and why the cyber-attack was conducted in the first place.
Even video streaming services have been hacked
Every social media platform today is in at risk of a security breach. Earlier this year, Vevo’s YouTube account was accessed by hackers who refer to themselves as Prosox and Kuroi’sh. Vevo is an American video streaming service owned by Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and Universal Music Group. By hacking into Vevo’s servers, the hackers were able to access its YouTube channel and delete some of the most popular videos on the platform. One of the videos that was taken down was the hit song, ‘Despacito’, which has over five billion views. Hackers replaced the original video with a new title and different thumbnail. Once users tried to open the video, a message saying the video is unavailable appeared on the screen. Below the hacked videos, the attackers also wrote “free Palestine”. The original Despacito video, along with others that were affected by the attack, were later recovered.
For businesses, social media can be a gateway to reaching larger audiences. But this powerful tool is gaining the attention of cyber-criminals. When using social media, businesses need to be aware of its potential cybersecurity risks. The same way these platforms can help you boost your business, they’re an ideal tool for hackers, who are more than willing to use them against you.