Hackers published the account names and phone numbers of 4.6 million Snapchat users online Wednesday in an attempt to pressure the mobile application to improve its security, as the photo-sharing service apparently ignored recent warnings from security researchers.
Snapchat has become popular because it has a simple interface for sending photos and text messages, known as "snaps," which then disappear within a few seconds. The mobile application boasts more than 350 million photo uploads each day, according to the company, which discloses photos shared rather than its user base.
The user information leaked Wednesday was published on a website called SnapchatDB.info, which has since been suspended by its Web hosting service. Snapchat users can check online whether their account was leaked during the hack through a website designed by Robbie Trencheny and Will Smidlein that will access the list of usernames published Wednesday.
The SnapchatDB hackers said they censored the last two digits of phone numbers in an attempt to "minimize spam and abuse," but it might still release the unfiltered leaked data, according to tech industry blog TechCrunch.
"Our main goal is to raise public awareness on how reckless many internet companies are with user information," according a statement from SnapchatDB cited by TechCrunch. "It is understandable that tech startups have limited resources but security and privacy should not be a secondary goal. Security matters as much as user experience does."
The self-proclaimed hacktivist group accessed the user information through a security gap noticed by security research group Gibson Security Dec. 25, which encouraged the mobile application to improve its privacy safeguards. Two days later Snapchat downplayed the risk that hackers could use that gap to expose user information.
"Theoretically, if someone were able to upload a huge set of phone numbers, like every number in an area code, or every possible number in the U.S., they could create a database of the results and match usernames to phone numbers that way," according to a blog post from Snapchat published on Dec. 27.
"Over the past year we've implemented various safeguards to make it more difficult to do."
Snapchat also downplayed a study published in May that showed its temporary photos could be recovered, including sexual photo messages popular on the service because of claims that its images will disappear within moments of delivery.
"We're really not paying much attention to it," Snapchat Vice President for Communications Mary Ritti told U.S. News in May regarding the study.