According to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s annual data breach report, data compromises in 2023 were more abundant than ever before - yet organizations were less forthright about the root cause of cyberattacks. In the U.S. alone, the number of data compromises reported jumped 78% to a record high of 3,205 incidents, ultimately impacting more than 353 million victims, including individuals affected multiple times.
This January 2024, the ‘Mother of All Breaches’ is making headlines as a ‘supermassive’ data leak, affecting no less than 26 billion leaked data records. This data leak affects user records from platforms and services, including X (formerly known as Twitter) database leaks, Dropbox leaks, LinkedIn, Adobe, Canva, and Telegram leaks, as these companies’ data is all found in the same database. Additionally, records from various U.S. and other government organizations are also rumored to be compromised.
This article will explore the motives behind hackers targeting social media platforms and offer insights into how consumers can play a role in defending their online presence.
‘Mother of all breaches’ attack: Why do hackers target social media platforms to perform data leaks?
So why is it even worth it for threat actors to go after consumer data like this? First of all, social media platforms are a veritable trove of personal information—from birthdays and locations to interests and relationships, they are a goldmine of personal data. Hackers target this data for identity theft and financial fraud, and harness it to craft highly effective phishing attacks.
These data breaches are also a malicious effort towards financial gain, as stolen social media accounts are often sold on the dark web. Additionally, hackers may use compromised accounts to perpetrate scams or run fraudulent schemes. Credential harvesting is another motive - many users reuse passwords across multiple platforms, so by compromising social media accounts, hackers can gain access to email accounts, online banking, and other sensitive platforms.
Hackers also seek to exploit social media to gather information for targeted attacks. Social engineering is one of the easiest ways to carry out phishing attacks, so understanding personal relationships and interests helps them craft convincing phishing messages and gain the trust of potential victims. This knowledge can then also be applied to targeted spear phishing or whaling attacks.
Defending against social media cyber leaks
We can’t underestimate what threat actors can do with leaked data, and as such, we need to take proactive cybersecurity measures. Cybersecurity experts are predicting a huge rise in cybercrime as a consequence of the ‘Mother Of All Breaches’, due to the sensitive nature of the data that has been leaked, and we don’t yet know just how the threat actors will leverage the aggregated data, and what other types of attacks, such as credential-stuffing or brute-force attacks, they may carry out.
If you think you have been affected by this enormous breach, change the passwords to all your accounts as soon as possible. Use unique, strong passwords for each social media account, and update them regularly. Consider using a password manager to keep track of complex passwords. As a general rule, consumers should also strengthen their account security by enabling two-factor authentication (2FA). This adds an extra layer of protection, requiring a second verification step, such as a code sent to your mobile device.
Other key tips for digital hygiene include regularly reviewing and adjusting privacy settings on your social media accounts, and limiting the visibility of personal information to only those you trust. You should also take the time to verify the authenticity of friend requests and messages. Understanding common social engineering tactics is another way to stay one step ahead of hackers. Be cautious about sharing sensitive information, even with seemingly trustworthy contacts. Avoid clicking on suspicious links or responding to unsolicited messages, as these may be phishing attempts.
Consumers should also regularly monitor activity on their various accounts, by regularly checking account activity and reviewing login history. If you notice unfamiliar devices or locations, it could indicate unauthorized access. Most social media platforms provide mechanisms to report suspicious accounts or activity, so reporting suspicious activity as soon as possible is the best way you can help security teams deal with potential threats.
Users should also familiarize themselves with the security features offered by social media platforms. Many platforms provide additional security options, such as login alerts and device recognition.
The role of social media platforms in cybersecurity responsibility
While individual users can take steps to safeguard their accounts, social media platforms also bear responsibility for ensuring robust security measures. To enhance overall user protection, these platforms should invest in and implement advanced security features, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), encryption, and anomaly detection.
Continuous security education is also important - by providing ongoing education and resources to users about potential threats, phishing schemes, and best practices for securing their accounts, consumers will be in a better position to recognize cyber threats, and know what to do if they are worried their data has been leaked.
These web-based companies should also conduct regular security audits and assessments to identify vulnerabilities and proactively address potential risks. Responding swiftly to security incidents is also vital, as well as notifying affected users, and taking necessary measures to mitigate the impact of data breaches. Companies should also be honest with their customers if they are concerned a data leak has occurred.
How to check if your data has been compromised
If you are worried that your data has been compromised, you can use ReasonLabs’s dark web monitoring tool, a feature of the Online Security browser extension, to scan for data leaks. Simply enter your email address, and scan to check that email address and passwords haven’t been leaked on the dark web. Once you have the results of the scan, you can act accordingly.
For more information on dark web monitoring and other products in our cybersecurity suite, visit www.reasonlabs.com.