For years, Facebook and Instagram accounts have been items of interest to pirates surfing the dark web, but this black market is always evolving.
Researchers have analysed this illegal online trade and, more specifically, the prices this kind of personal information typically sells for. The results can be quite surprising.
“Whether it’s the increased supply of hacked information or the diminishing value of an individual hacked account, prices for hacked social media accounts seem to be dropping across all platforms,” reveals the study, titled the “Dark Web Price Index 2021”, carried out by researchers from Privacy Affairs. The analysts looked at various dark web marketplaces, forums and websites to create an index of the average prices for a range of specific products.
Hacked accounts: Facebook accounts worth more than Twitter
When it comes to social media, prices of hacked accounts fell across the board. A hacked Facebook account now sells for US$65 (RM266), down from US$75 (RM307) in 2020. Hacked Instagram accounts are now worth US$45 (RM184), compared to US$55 (RM225) last year. And US$35 (RM143) buys a hacked Twitter account – US$14 (RM57) less than in 2020. Hacked Gmail accounts saw the biggest drop, with prices falling US$76 (RM311). In 2020, these were estimated to be worth US$156 (RM639) each, compared to US$80 (RM327) this year.
The business of buying followers
While the prices of hacked social media accounts dropped, the cost of buying followers only grew for LinkedIn. An additional 1,000 followers costs US$2 (RM8) more than in 2020, rising to US$12 (RM49). Overall, the research highlights the very low costs of social engagement, with 1,000 followers on Instagram available for just US$5 (RM21) or just US$2 (RM8) on Spotify. On Instagram, 100 “Likes” can be yours for US$5 (RM21), while 1,000 Twitter retweets work out to be a little more expensive, but still largely affordable, at US$25 (RM102). Such offers just go to show how easily social media users can build communities and boost their apparent influence.
Greater variety of hacked accounts
While the research notes an increase in the volume of the dark web offer, it also reveals a wider variety of items available, including items like hacked accounts for the Uber application. This veritable underground market even seems to be using the same sales techniques as traditional markets, with various promotions and offers, adds Privacy Affairs.
The drop in prices can notably be explained by the many security measures put in place to verify logins to websites and social media platforms, like two-step authentication. Such settings which make the task more laborious and increasingly less profitable for hackers.
Holding data to ransom
However, certain hackers and dark web customers can use illegally purchased information as a basis for bigger scams. While the going rates for hackers are a far cry from the US$50mil (RM204.90mil) demanded by Russian hackers who leaked product information from Apple, malicious groups or individuals could still use this “service” to exploit victims.
“We’ve heard all the horror stories of unsuspecting victims losing their life savings or hackers selling cam footage on the deepest corners of the Web,” explains Privacy Affairs. In extortion and blackmail, from revenge porn to stealing bank details, the user’s data is held to ransom for sometimes dizzying sums.
These scams can sometimes take on global proportions, as seen on Twitter in July 2020. Hackers managed to infiltrate the accounts of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and even Barack Obama and Joe Biden, in the aim of getting their hands on bitcoin. This international fraud operation all started with a targeted hacking attack on Twitter employees, and ended up costing certain users of the social network very dearly. – AFP Relaxnews