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Nosy Ex-Partners Armed with Instagram Passwords Pose a Serious Threat

A survey of single people found almost a third are still logging into their ex’s social-media accounts, some for revenge.

Breakups can be traumatic in all sorts of ways. Now we know they can pose a serious cybersecurity threat too. A new survey found that an alarming number of people are still accessing their exes’ accounts without their knowledge — a handful for malicious reasons.

The survey conducted during November for Reboot Digital PR Agency found that 70 percent of exes polled have logged into their former partner’s Instagram account in the past week. And a full 65 percent of those who report social-media snooping said it had become an “obsession.”

This kind of social-media stalking is primarily fueled by curiosity, according to the report, but in a handful of cases, these breaches can present a real threat.

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“Most exes claim that they still log into past partners’ social-media accounts to ‘see if they have met someone new,’” according to Reboot’s report, “with 59 percent of participants admitting this was the main reason.”

Curiosity is one thing, but troublingly, 13 percent confessed they logged in to “seek revenge.”

Common accounts for stalker exes to access, the report added, include Instagram, Netflix, Facebook, email, Spotify and Twitter.

The report said that they found only 23 percent of account-holders were aware their former partners still had access.

The report also discovered that many exes (32 percent) stop logging in about six months post-breakup, with others stopping around the 10 to 12-month mark (18 percent). Shockingly, however, 17 percent of participants admitted to logging into their ex’s social accounts 2 years after a breakup.

Exes’ Protection

Smart-security practices like not sharing passwords with anyone and multi-factor authentication (MFA) are two simple ways to prevent this type of personal insider threat, Dan Conrad, field strategist with One Identity, told Threatpost.

Most common accounts accessed by exes. Source: Reboot.

“People assume that they should change their passwords after a big life event, however, if you’re following strong password hygiene practices, an individual’s password shouldn’t be affected by [this], as no one else should have access to the password in the first place,” Conrad said in an emailed response to the report.

“With many applications requiring MFA, passwords have become a part of the authentication process, making credentials no longer enough to break into an account,” Conrad said.

He added that research shows that the more frequently users change their passwords, the weaker those passwords tend to become.

Personal Threats Meet Professional

Much like at companies and other organizations, insider threats can impact individuals and their personal data. And with the pandemic continuing the blur the lines between both, an ex’s data breach could quickly balloon into a serious professional problem too.

During a recent Threatpost webinar on insider threats Craig Cooper, Gurucul COO explained how dangerous insider Threats to business can be, including a threat actor targeting a specific employee.

“The question is often: What might they be looking at? And often, when you are talking about insider threats on the physical side, it could be someone targeting a specific person,” Cooper said. “That’s not very comfortable to think about, but that’s obviously something that could happen. This happens with workplace violence and those types of things.”

Employees with personal problems, like a breakup or divorce, have started to be identified by companies as “high risk,” for security breaches according to Code42’s CISO Jadee Hanson who spoke with Threatpost last March about the trend.

“There’s psychological studies that look at tone and language that employees use throughout the workday, and so if it’s negative in nature, the adversaries can absolutely take advantage of that and use that person,” Hansen said.

She explained companies have started monitoring social media accounts of its key credential holders for potential insider threats.

“Following certain security people or certain people that have sort of elevated access,” she said. “What are they saying in a public forum and trying to exploit them? Just knowing that they’re more of a disgruntled employee rather than your average employee.”

Access Mitigation

Cooper, along with Gurucul CEO Saryu Nayyar, explained that the critical mitigation for businesses to protect from insider threats is paying meticulous attention to permissions and who has access to important data. That same advice, much like the threat itself, also applies to personal accounts.

Beyond not sharing passwords to your accounts and using MFA whenever possible, Conrad stressed the importance of using strong, unique passwords for every account.

“Instead of focusing on how often to change a password, it’s essential to focus on not only meeting complexity requirements but also ensuring the password is unique to each account,” Conrad warned. “To help juggle passwords, people should use a reputable password manager as these systems generate complex passwords for each account, alert the users if accounts have the same password and interject complex credentials when required. The bottom line is that how frequently you change a password isn’t as important as how strong your password is.”

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