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Snapchat is one of the most popular social media services right now, with users sharing more photos on the platform than both Facebook and Instagram. Because it has reached such a massive scale, it’s more important than ever for users to be mindful of security while using the self-destructing photo app.

The “Snappening” — 200,000 Images Leaked

Last October, some 200,000 Snapchat photos were obtained by hackers and released publicly on the Web. The incident was dubbed the “Snappening” — a nod to the Fappening, the name given to the massive iCloud celebrity photo leak Apple Investigates Celebrity Nudes, YouTube Introduces Tip Jar, And More... [Tech News Digest] Apple Investigates Celebrity Nudes, YouTube Introduces Tip Jar, And More... [Tech News Digest] Also, looking forward to the Internet Slowdown, Windows XP edges 1% closer to death, play Star Citizen for free, the new Raspberry Pi Web browser, and the wearables we narrowly avoided. Read More that occurred in September. Snapchat immediately responded to the news, noting that its servers were not breached and that the fault lies on unauthorized third-party apps:

“Snapchatters were victimized by their use of third-party apps to send and receive Snaps, a practice that we expressly prohibit in our Terms of Use precisely because they compromise our users’ security. We vigilantly monitor the App Store and Google Play for illegal third-party apps and have succeeded in getting many of these removed.” — Snapchat

Shortly thereafter, third-party app Snapsaved stepped forward and took responsibility for the hack, noting that it resulted from a server misconfiguration on their part. Snapsaved immediately shut down its website and database to prevent further hacking attempts.

What can we learn from this? Quite simply, don’t use unauthorized third-party apps for Snapchat — or any service, for that matter. Snapchat has the resources to keep your photos and data safe from prying eyes, while the developers of small third-party apps do not.

But just because you’re not using a third-party app doesn’t mean your photos will vanish into oblivion…

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Snapchat Photos Don’t Really “Disappear”

I don’t want to dog on Snapchat here — I’m a fan of the app — but it’s important for users to understand what’s going on under the hood when they send and receive “vanishing” messages.

In order to view a photo on Snapchat, there must be an image file somewhere, right? Well, it turns out that Snapchat doesn’t delete that image file from your device after it expires.

As you can see in the video above, it’s not too hard to recover expired Snapchat images using a simple file browser. And, unlike taking a screenshot, this method is untraceable. But it’s not just the recipient you need to worry about — it is theoretically possible for some malicious code to locate and extract those files from your device without your knowledge. This is an unlikely scenario, mind you, but it’s definitely within the realm of possibility.

The lesson here is obvious: Snapchat is not a safe-haven for your most private communications. It’s not a good idea to share anything there that you wouldn’t want the world to see.

Why You Shouldn’t View Leaked Snapchat Photos

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When things like the Snappening happen, the Internet explodes with coverage of the incident — often linking to various places where you can view the stolen images. You probably shouldn’t do that, though.

There are obvious ethical problems with downloading and viewing leaked images — if you weren’t the original recipient, they’re not for your eyes — but if that’s not enough to stop you, perhaps legal trouble is.

By some estimates, 50 percent of Snapchat users are between the ages of 13 and 17. This means any mass release of stolen Snapchat images is likely to contain child pornography. People who downloaded the Snappening files confirmed this.

One 4chan user had this to say:

I highly suggest you don’t download this shit. I deleted it as soon as I saw how much [child pornography] there is on it, don’t be a part of the snappening, don’t seed it, don’t share it, just get rid of it.

Anyone found to be in possession of such images are subject to child pornography charges in the U.S. and a number of other countries.

You Can Use Snapchat Safely

Once again, the most important thing you can do to use Snapchat safely is avoid sharing anything that could ruin your life or embarrass you if it got leaked. It’s also wise to avoid unauthorized third-party apps, as they present an unnecessary security risk 4 Smartphone Security Risks To Be Aware Of 4 Smartphone Security Risks To Be Aware Of There seems to be a sort of general malaise among users – the tech savvy and everyday users alike – that because your computer fits in your pocket, it can’t be infected by malware, Trojans,... Read More . And please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t download or view stolen Snapchat photos!

Do you use Snapchat? What do you think about the Snappening? Do you have any other tips to add? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

  1. stevegossett64
    May 29, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    As with anything an app is only as safe as the person who uses it. If the age group that statistically uses this is between 13 and 17, where's the parent monitoring? Why do people persist on taking and posting nudes of themselves? Perhaps indecency laws should be revised a bit toward the people taking nudes of themselves, especially underage kids or teens for indecent behavior, or at least towards the parents of these kids and teens. The people at Snapchat merely created a tool of use, its obvious that a large part of their user community has a lack of self control in how its used. Nobody should expect Snapchat to have to do the policing, both parents and adults using the app should be able to make common sense decisions and when they cant there should be some repercussion. At a minimum I think Snapchat could have reporting models in place like Skype to report users which could lead into possible account removals. In any event, an app on its own is harmless until its used the wrong way. I do take a slight offense at any company who capitalizes on such a thing knowing nudes of underage minors float around within its user community.

    • Brad Merrill
      May 31, 2015 at 9:35 pm

      You're absolutely right that online safety comes down to the individual user, and it's very important for parents to step in and help their kids make smart choices. As far as capitalizing on underage nudes, I know that's not Snapchat's intention, but unfortunately it does happen. I can't imagine it's easy to police their kind of community, so that's a conversation that needs to happen at home with the parents. I also love the idea of adding a reporting function to the app — that would be a small but important step in the right direction. Thanks for the comment!

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