It’s no longer just celebrities feeling the heat of image hacks and cyber security: Intimate photos and videos from everyday people may be soon leaked online after a third-party Snapchat imaging-saving service was hacked.

GigaOM and others have reported that cybercriminals have boasted in posts on online community 4chan that they had accessed 200,000 photos via a searchable database of image files (not via Snapchat itself). Experts are speculating the third-party service was an Android app called Snapsave, which has since been jettisoned from the Google Play store, or a now-defunct site called Snapsaved.com.

The incident, which has quickly been dubbed “The Snappening” by online magazines and blogs, was confirmed by social media strategist Kenny Withers, who posted screenshots of the 4chan discussion threads on his own blog. The cybercriminals had posted a raw list of images on a website called ViralPop.com, which was shut down soon after, and said they were planning to place the entire database on a separate, searchable website.

“The Snappening” was somewhat unexpected because Snapchat is deliberately intended to offer a way of sharing photos and images that are deleted within seconds of being received. However, third-party services such as Snapsaved work to circumvent this policy. While Snapchat itself was not a target in this attack, an article on Silicon Republic pointed out that security experts have found it relatively easy to penetrate its defenses, bypassing a verification system soon after it was rolled out in January.

One of the more disturbing aspects of this particular hack is the likely demographics of the victims. DigiDay recently published statistics that showed 50 percent of Snapchat users are between the ages of 13 and 17. As a result, the International Business Times suggested many of the images stolen in “The Snappening” might be explicit and even fall under the definition of child pornography.

Snapchat responded to the hack in an email sent to VentureBeat that emphasized that its servers were not breached nor were they the source of the leaks. The company also pointed out that using third-party apps to send and receive images is a violation of its terms of use and that it frequently succeeds in having many such apps removed from the App Store and Google Play.

That said, there is an ongoing discussion on Reddit as to whether the theft of Snapchat images is a hoax, and a story on TechCrunch said some of the stolen images are already available elsewhere online. Either way, the possibility of so many personal photos and videos being leaked will put a wide-angle lens on the discussion about social media security practices.

Image source: Flickr

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