Snapchat Hack a Wake-Up Call to Parents, Social Media

This new year of 2014 may very well be the one in which the ability (or failure) of social networks to protect their users' data becomes a competitive advantage (or disadvantage).

If so, Snapchat has started the year off in a bad way, by having its servers hacked and the user names and mobile numbers of 4.8 million members turned into a database that's now floating around the Internet.

By itself, it's not very big news that a small, relatively new service got hacked, of course.

Computer security breaches that steal consumer data are now common.

Just ask Target shoppers and Skype users -- who also had private information stolen this holiday season.

In a world where cybersleuths wearing either white or black hats joust for control of the Internet, there's going to be collateral damage to consumers.

The bigger problem for Snapchat is it failed to fix a security weakness that was pointed out publicly by an Australian security firm in August.

Gibson Security, based in Sydney, has on its site a news release dated Aug. 27, 2013, in which it points out the precise flaw that thieves used to penetrate Snapchat's servers this week.

The four-month lag time suggests protecting user data was not at the top of the to-do list of Snapchat's own engineering hacking sessions.

It probably should have been, given that the data breach news has become the first time a general (non-tech) audience is hearing about the start-up.

Closer followers of tech will remember Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel in November was widely reported to have turned down a $3 billion all-cash takeover offer from Facebook.

Publicity people often say that there's no such thing as bad publicity, but this example strongly suggests otherwise.

Given that Snapchat is most popular with the 18-and-younger crowd, its lack of diligence on fixing the flaw pointed out by Gibson Security...

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