What can happen if our social media accounts, email, or other applications are stolen from us?
In this article, we will explore the harmful consequences of having our social media accounts, email, or other applications stolen. The ultimate goal of the article is to raise awareness among our readers about the significance of these issues. You’ve probably heard or even said, “Why would they hack me if I’m not that important?” With this article, we hope you’ll reconsider that viewpoint and take steps to protect your accounts if you haven’t already.
In general terms, an attacker can steal our accounts in the following ways:
- Social engineering: Through attacks like phishing, smishing, and related tactics, victims voluntarily enter their access credentials for various accounts. The risk of falling for these tricks can be mitigated with basic training on recognizing these types of attacks.
- Malware installation: This can occur when victims download from unofficial or “pirated” sites or install “free licenses.” There’s also the possibility that the attacker gains direct access to the victim’s computer or device and installs malicious software through various means (like USB drives). Preventing this involves being disciplined and responsible when installing software on our devices.
- Attacks on compromised networks: Through Man In The Middle (MITM) attacks and variants, the attacker positions themselves in between the communication, often executed on “public” “free” access networks in public places (airports, coffee shops, etc.). This can be prevented by not connecting to unknown networks.
If an attacker steals our social media accounts, we might face the following consequences, among others:
- Loss of privacy: The attacker gains access to all your personal information, photos, direct messages, and other private data, with all the potential ramifications that might entail.
- Identity impersonation: The attacker can pose as you and communicate with your friends, family, or followers. This can lead to misunderstandings, scams, and further account thefts.
- Attacks on your contacts: Stemming from the previous point, by using our account, the attacker can send spam, malicious links to infect contacts with malware, or scams, leveraging the trust associated with our account. This can lead to potential legal complaints and their respective consequences.
- Unauthorized content dissemination: The attacker might post offensive, false, or harmful content under your name. In extreme cases, this can lead to serious legal complaints, and we might incur significant expenses to prove our innocence through digital forensic analysis.
- Content deletion: The thief might delete photos, videos, posts, or even the entire account, as has happened to some “influencers” in the past.
- Account information alteration: Typically, the attacker changes the associated email address, phone number, or password, making account recovery challenging or sometimes impossible.
- Financial loss:
- If you have accounts linked with payment information, like an Instagram account connected to an online store, the attacker might conduct unauthorized transactions.
- Expenses related to hiring forensic analysis services to support potential legal complaints resulting from the attacker’s actions.
- Access to other services: If you use the same password across various services or have linked accounts (e.g., logging into other apps or websites using your Facebook account), the attacker might gain access to these services as well.
4. What can happen if our email accounts are stolen?
The theft of an email account can have more severe implications than the theft of a social media account due to the centralized nature and wide range of information typically linked to an email address. If an attacker steals our email accounts, we might face the following consequences:
- Loss of privacy: The attacker would have access to all our emails, which might include personal, financial, professional, and other sensitive data.
- Password recovery: Many online services use email for password reset or change processes. The attacker could then reset passwords for other accounts such as banks, social media, or online shops.
- Frauds and scams: The attacker could engage in fraud or scams using our email address, such as sending money requests to our contacts or conducting unauthorized transactions.
- Identity impersonation: Similar to social media, the attacker could pretend to be us and communicate with others, leading to misunderstandings, relationship damage, or even financial harm.
- Access to associated services: Emails are often linked to other services and applications. If someone accesses our email, they might have a gateway to all these services (like Office365, sharepoints, Microsoft Teams, etc.).
- Attacks on our contacts: The attacker might use our account to send spam or malware to our contacts, similar to what was described for social media theft. This could again lead to legal complaints and their related consequences.
- Deletion or alteration of information: The attacker could delete important emails, change our account settings, or even lock us out entirely.
- Information extraction: The attacker might search for and extract valuable information, like banking details, personal identification numbers, work-related data, etc. This could be used to craft more advanced attack vectors, such as executing bank transfers without victim interaction.
- Registration on Deep or Dark Web services: An attacker might use our email account to sign up on Deep/Dark Web forums and markets to buy or sell weapons, drugs, child exploitation material, or engage in other criminal activities. This could put us in serious trouble with the authorities if our account gets flagged or is caught up in a criminal investigation.
5. What can happen if an attacker gains access to our computer devices?
If an attacker gains access to our computer devices (such as computers, smartphones, tablets, NAS), the risks and consequences can be devastating. Among the most significant, the following could be found:
- Access to personal information: The attacker could access photos, videos, documents, messages, and any other type of files stored on the device. Similarly, if the victim saves their passwords in the browser, the attacker could access all stored credentials (social media accounts, email, banks, etc.). To avoid this, it is recommended to have encrypted disk partitions to store more sensitive information, as well as store it on encrypted external hard drives, and never save passwords in web browsers, but in secure password managers like Keepass.
- Password theft: Following the previous point, if passwords are stored on the device or if the attacker installs a keylogger, they could obtain login credentials to various online services.
- Identity theft: With the information found on the device, such as emails, contact details, etc., the attacker could impersonate the victim.
- Financial fraud: If there are banking applications (banks, cryptocurrency wallets/exchanges) or financial details stored on the device, they could attempt unauthorized transactions or request bank loans. At this point, and also with the aim of causing harm, the attacker could block bank cards, which could be a problem under certain circumstances, such as being on vacation abroad.
- Espionage: The attacker could activate the device’s camera or microphone without the victim’s knowledge, carrying out surveillance activities. This would allow the attacker to know where the victim is in order to develop attack vectors to carry out physical intrusion tasks at their home, vehicle, or other places.
- Propagation of malware or data hijacking: They could install malicious software on the device, such as ransomware (which encrypts files and demands a ransom to unlock them), trojans, spyware, among others.
- Use of the device in criminal activities: The device could be used as part of a zombie network (botnet) to carry out distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS), send spam, or mine cryptocurrencies without the owner’s knowledge.
- Access to connected networks and systems: If the device is connected to a network (such as a home or corporate network), the attacker could try to infiltrate other devices or systems on the same network.
- Extortion: With the information obtained, they could try to extort the owner, threatening to reveal private or compromising information.
- Introduce compromising material: Having access to the device, an attacker could introduce material that could compromise the victim, such as child pornography, for example. If the victim were reported for these acts, the authorities responsible for carrying out the corresponding forensic analysis of the device would act as required according to their procedures, causing great harm to the hacking victim at different levels.
6. What can happen if an attacker gains access to our network via WiFi or Ethernet?
If an attacker gains access to our network, whether through WiFi or Ethernet, the risks and potential outcomes are varied and, in many instances, serious. Below is a summary of what might occur:
- Monitoring network traffic: The attacker could spy on and record all network traffic, allowing them to capture data such as passwords, conversations, emails, and other sensitive information through Man In The Middle (MITM) attacks.
- Access to connected devices: The attacker could attempt to access any connected device, such as computers, smartphones, tablets, printers, security cameras, and IoT devices (smart thermostats, connected appliances, etc.).
- Router configuration modification: The attacker could change the router’s settings, like DNS, thus redirecting users to fraudulent or infected sites.
- Distribution of malware: The attacker could introduce malicious software into devices connected to the network, such as ransomware, spyware, trojans, etc.
- Use of the network for illicit activities: They might use the internet connection for illegal activities, like illegal downloads (child pornography, among others), attacks on other networks, or distribution of banned content, which could cause legal issues for the connection’s owner.
- Denial of Service (DoS) attacks: They could attempt to overload and disable the network or certain devices within the network.
- Extortion: With access to data or systems, they could try to extort the owner or the company, threatening to damage, expose, or sell the information.
- Access to corporate systems and applications: If it’s a company’s network, the attacker could attempt to access critical systems, databases, financial applications, and more.
- Propagation to other networks: If a device on the network has access to other networks (for instance, a corporate VPN), the attacker could also try to compromise those networks.
7. Conclusions and recommendations.
In this article, we have explored the consequences of the theft of our social media accounts, email accounts, as well as unauthorized access to our WiFi networks and computer devices. As common consequences to all the cases described, it would be necessary to add:
- Reputation Damage: The reputational damage that could occur if our personal/professional accounts or networks are involved in a criminal investigation, as described in the previous points, would be devastating.
- Emotional Stress: Discovering that someone has invaded our privacy and taken control of our digital identity, with which they have also committed criminal acts, can be truly unsettling and distressing. This can potentially result in various physical harms. Let’s not forget that in many cases, even our National Identity Document (DNI) is linked to a personal email account.
The most common ways to fall victim to password theft and malware installation are through social engineering, downloading pirated software, or connecting to networks compromised by cybercriminals. It’s essential to emphasize continuous awareness and training in cybersecurity since users are the weakest links in the chain.
The most appropriate way to mitigate the issues highlighted in this article is to have a robust security policy and ongoing cybersecurity awareness training. We recommend reading our articles “Securing our devices against potential espionage” and “Actions to take in case of Gmail account ransom or loss.“
If you have been or are currently a victim of credential theft from your social media, email, or have experienced an intrusion into your computer systems and require forensic analysis of your systems, or need us to handle all the administrative procedures of your case, or are interested in checking the security of your assets through an ethical hacking test or a Red Team Operation, or implementing good security policies, please do not hesitate to contact us.