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Thieves and hackers have a new weapon: stealing celebrity identities

UGLY TRUTH: Hackers under the guise of celebrities robbed people of money. Do you know who you're talking to?

David Budai
13.Aug 2020
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3 minutes
Sociální sítě a hlava ženy

A recent event, unparalleled in significance, has shown how increadibly vulnerable people are when "consuming" social networking content. Hackers attacked the Twitter accounts of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Barack Obama and other elite personalities and, through fake posts, coaxed a lot of money out of people. We are used to following famous people directly and we no longer see the risk of being easily deceived.

Barack Obama
Donald Trump
Sociální sítě na mobilu

It's ancient knowledge that the weakest security link is always the human element. A nuclear power plant, for example, can withstand even the greatest attacks from the outside, but if terrorists acquire a so-called insider, the situation changes dramatically and a disaster is likely to occur. Computer security and internet scams represent a similar case. No matter how advanced your antivirus and firewall are, if you make a human error, you're screwed anyway.

Fraudsters use a technique called social engineering to make you fail. In short, they pretend to be someone else (someone important), with whom poeple would easily share sensitive information, such as their password. The legendary computer hacker Kevin Mitnick perfected this technique a couple of years ago. In order to break into security systems of large corporations, he didn't even need extraordinary computer skills; the ability to pretend was enough.

Hi, give me your password

"Hi, I'm the head of IT, I need your computer and password for a minute," he usually told the right people, and they believed him. And that was all he needed to get in. He installed his insidious hacker program, slipped away and logged on to the network remotely to steal company data. Easy, simple, and rather scary. Especially today, at a time when social network accounts of the world's most powerful people can be stolen in a similar way.

Luxusní byt na pronájem - Praha 1 - Josefov
Luxusní byt na pronájem - Praha 1 - Josefov, Praha 1

Something similar must have happened in the above mentioned Twitter scandal. The first information reveals that through insiders, i.e. Twitter employees, hackers were able to gain access to the accounts of Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and other personalities, where they posted a public tweet that said, "If you send $ 1,000 I'll back $ 2000." Hundreds of people obeyed, and if Twitter hadn't deleted the posts in a matter of minutes and blocked the compromised accounts, it would have been thousands or millions of people. After all, Obama alone has 121 million followers on this network.

In all likelihood, hackers have been only testing the terrain, because the attack had many basic shortcomings (for example, messages from different accounts were identical, and therefore could be quickly deleted), thanks to which it was quickly detected and stopped. But in the future, such attacks might be much more sophisticated and insidious. And the impacts can be more severe than we can imagine.

Who's there?

Through social networks, politicians, celebrities, influencers and many other famous personalities have come closer to us than ever before. They talk to us, inspire us, influence us and even tell us which charity or project we should send money to. We've gotten so used to it that we don't even stop to think about whether the person on the other side really is who they claim to be. We're content to see the notorious blue label (check mark) verifying identity, without questioning it any further.

But we live in very turbulent times, when Donald Trump's tweets can move stock markets and when pop stars announce the release of new albums or singles by posting on Facebook, reaching millions of people without advertising. Everything is fast, and we believe it all.

Luxusní byt na pronájem - Praha 1 - Nové Město
Luxusní byt na pronájem - Praha 1 - Nové Město, Praha 1

But what if Trump suddenly declared war on another state with one false tweet? What if fake posts of popular actors fraudulently coaxed millions or billions out of people? What will happen when the so-called deep-fake videos, in which celebrities speak to us and urge us to take specific actions, become common on social networks? Digital and graphic technologies are advancing so fast that we'll soon be unable to tell fictitious videos from real ones. After all, dead actors can already come to life in movies. And that's just the beginning!

Therefore, more than ever, we need to think about what we see on social networks. We have to approach them with common sense and not act impulsively. Is it really normal for Elon Musk to give away money? It's not, which means it's probably going to be a scam. It's as easy as that.

Hard number: 160,000

That's the value of the bitcoins that arrived at the hackers' account after posting the fake call in dollars. Next time, it can be a much higher number!

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