Instagram is working with other social media platforms, including Twitter and TikTok, to ban users who have been involved in stealing hundreds of one-word username.
These concise, reliable handles, called “OG username” (think keywords like @Killer, @Sick, and @Miracle), are valuable because they are eye-catching and bring status. Thai; the first to grasp them were early adopters. Cybercriminals buy and sell usernames on dedicated forums and messaging apps.
The crackdown, which began on Thursday, follows Instagram’s month-long investigation into ogusers.com, the main forum where these accounts are sold and traded. Instagram discovered that the stolen account name was obtained through hacking, blackmail, blackmail and harassment – and could then be sold for up to $ 40,000. Such manipulation has been largely uncontrolled for many years. (Ogusers.com is also the forum where last year’s giant Twitter hack that affected former President Barack Obama, Elon Musk, and many other celebrities was staged.)
Ajay Pondicherry, 38, a real estate software entrepreneur in Los Angeles, was one of Instagram’s first few thousand users, so he can easily request handling @Ajay. For years, people offered to buy or exchange his username, but he always refused to give it up.
“It’s a sign that I was one of the first to use Instagram. I’ve always been a huge fan of the product and having that grip proves I’ve started early, ”he said. “I appreciate it more when people try to hit me and trade and buy it from me. It has cachet. “
On February 21, 2019, Mr. Pondicherry found himself locked out of his email account. After that, his phone stopped working. When he checked his AT&T account the next day, his number was linked to a new phone.
What Mr. Pondicherry experienced was a SIM swap, in which cybercriminals exploit someone’s personal information to gain control of their phone number from a wireless carrier, then use Use two-factor authentication to access their personal accounts. After Mr. Pondicherry regained control of his AT&T account and tried to log into Instagram, he discovered that his controller, @Ajay, had been stolen by a hacker.
SIM swapping is a popular method for cybercriminals to gain valuable Instagram accounts and social media. (This is also the method used by hackers to take over the Twitter account of Twitter chief executive, Jack Dorsey, in 2019.)
But recently, cybercriminals pursuing the OG usernames have used harassing and intimidating measures. According to Instagram, the people behind Thursday’s banned accounts – some of which have millions of followers – have left owners of the desirable Instagram accounts threatened with beatings, revenge. obscene and violent.
Jackson Weimer, 22, administrator of a meme account called @ giantplateofketchup8, said he has met hundreds of people who are involved in this type of behavior online.
“Their main goal is to develop their own sites and sell these OG usernames is a game for many of them,” he said. “Their goal is to do this for as many people as possible. Every meme site encounters one of these people.
After Mr. Weimer called attention to these activities on his own Instagram, he encountered a series of harassment acts. “They sent me pictures of my house on Google Maps,” he said of his harassers. “They told me they wanted to rape and kill my parents. They said I would regret doing this. They send me my address a lot and create an account that ‘exposes’ me on Instagram, where they just post and make up lies about me. “
Instagram says that nine cybercriminals are behind the illegal seizure of hundreds of Instagram accounts, but the platform’s ban not only included these 9 users, but also included middlemen who helped orchestrate the purchase. and sell accounts on ogusers.com and Telegram, an encrypted messaging app. Many of the middlemen are young people, including teenagers, who see the short handle as a status symbol.
“It’s like driving a fast car when it’s important,” said Dr. Argelinda Baroni, clinical associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. “Children in general want to be authentic. Children want to be cool. But the children do very dangerous things to gain status. “
After noticing an alarming increase in account theft and an escalation in methods used to get usernames, Instagram took action in 2020 and began partnering with TikTok and Twitter to Identify the account on the platforms.
“As part of our ongoing work to find and prevent inauthentic practices, we have recently revoked some TikTok usernames that are being used for inappropriate accounts”, a TikTok representative said in a statement. “We will continue to focus on embracing the evolving tactics of bad guys, including working with third parties and others in the industry.”
Twitter confirmed that the company has also banned users for violating the platform’s policies on manipulation and spam. “This investigation was done in parallel with Facebook,” said a Twitter representative.
Rachel Tobac, a hacker and chief executive of SocialProof Security, which hosts security training and seminars, says that the pandemic has pushed many younger people into online communities where they can make money and find close friendships.
“Basically, it was a lack of support and an increase in economic hardship, especially under Covid-19,” she said. “I want to emphasize that this is a social challenge where these teenagers are falling into cybercrime like this. We’ll always have criminals, but we’ll see people, especially teenagers, turn to cybercriminals when the lack of support systems or the specific economic downturn affects them. “
Instagram says it is sending termination and de-listing letters to the individuals behind the high-value handheld theft and is working with local law enforcement to force people involved in the operation. Criminals must take responsibility.
While Instagram has previously banned meme accounts for violating its terms of service, Thursday’s crackdown is the most public and decisive act Instagram has taken against those manipulating the platform to collect. financial benefits. But Will Dyess, vice president of Dank Memes, an e-commerce and media company that runs several sites with popular usernames, said he was skeptical that account-stealing attempts would be complete. precipitate.
“Will @Stonks ever stop being targeted? Probably not, especially not after last week, ”he said, referring to GameStop’s frenzy. “There will always be a need for certain usernames, URLs. Real estate of the Internet is finite. “
Mr. Weimer said that while the ban on Instagram accounts is a good start, it doesn’t address the problem further: Young users simply want to make money on the platform.
“I think the pandemic has caused a lot of kids to try to make money any way they can, no matter how scam,” he said. “They spend more time on their phones, they stay home more often, a lot of kids have lost their part-time jobs.”
“If Instagram really wants to fix this,” Mr. Weimer continued, “they need to go top-down and start paying content creators, so there’s no reason for people to make money. in other ways ”.