Snapchat Not Safe From NSA Surveillance

Posted by on Oct 28, 2013

Image from http://s1.ibtimes.com

Image from http://s1.ibtimes.com

Snapchat is a photo sharing application that allows users to share images that disappear from devices after a set amount of time. You can take a picture or record a video, draw something on it and send it to your Snapchat pal. Once the receiver opens the photo or video, it will automatically disappear within 10 seconds or less. The photos will also be deleted from Snapchat’s server after the user has opened them. The unopened photos remain on the company’s server, which are run by Google for 30 days.

Given the short amount of time that images are available to the recipient it seems impossible that any third party could intercept them. However the company admitted in a blogpost that it will and had already handed over photos to US law enforcement agencies:

“Since May 2013, about a dozen of the search warrants we’ve received have resulted in us producing unopened snaps to law enforcement. That’s out of 350 million snaps sent every day.”

In the blogpost, Snapchat’s head of trust and safety, Micah Schaffer had explained how Snapchat handles user data. It is true that Snapchat deletes snaps from its servers after they are opened by the recipients. But what happens to the snaps before they are opened?  Snapchat’s unopened photos are kept on Google’s cloud computing service, App Engine, and Snapchat is capable of retrieving snaps from the App Engine’s datastore. So, in order to deliver desired snaps to receiver they have to retrieve the snaps from the datastore. This whole process of data retrieval is automated and the company does not look at user data under ordinary circumstances. However under certain circumstances they have to retrieve the photos manually using an in-house tool:

“For example, there are times when we, like other electronic communication service providers, are permitted and sometimes compelled by law to access and disclose information. For example, if we receive a search warrant from law enforcement for the contents of Snaps and those Snaps are still on our servers, a federal law called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) obliges us to produce the Snaps to the requesting law enforcement agency”.

The blog posting also states that the company sometimes has to preserve some snaps for longer periods of time. It would do this in cases where law enforcement was considering whether or not to make a formal request to access the images via the search warrant procedure. Currently only two people in the company have access to the in-house tool used for manually retrieving unopened snaps- Micah Schaffer and the company’s CTO and co-founder, Bobby Murphy.

Also, even though Snapchat deletes your snaps within 10 seconds after somebody views them, but some tech savvy user can take a screenshot of the photos within the10 second timeframe and can post them on social media sites. This is a huge risk to the privacy of users using Snapchat for photo sharing.

Image from http://www.idownloadblog.com/

Image from http://www.idownloadblog.com/

Here are some of the steps you can take to maintain your privacy while using online photo sharing applications:

  • Do not upload any pictures that you might regret later. Services like Snapchat might delete your snaps in 10 seconds but during this timeframe somebody can take a snapshot and share it on social media.
  • Use strong and hard to crack passwords in your photo sharing applications. Your password should be at least eight digits long and a combination of letters, numbers and special characters.
  • The photo sharing apps usually have a setting that allows you to share your photos only with your friends and families. You can limit unauthorized access to your photos by only sharing photos with people you know.
  • Last but not the least, use a trustworthy and completely secure cloud storage provider like SpiderOak for storing and sharing your photos online.


Protecting your photos with SpiderOak

 SpiderOak allows you to conveniently store photos online without having to worry about attacks or monitoring. This truly private storage and sync service is 100% anonymous, meaning that no one, not even the company’s own employees, can access the plaintext data uploaded to its servers. SpiderOak protects sensitive user data with 256-bit AES encryption so that files and passwords stay private. Authorized accounts and network devices can store and sync sensitive data with complete privacy, because this cloud service has absolutely “zero-knowledge” of user passwords or data. And all plaintext encryption keys are exclusively stored on approved devices because SpiderOak never hosts any plaintext data. This way, even if programs like NSA’s PRISM continue to stand unchallenged, people can rest easy knowing that their data is truly protected. SpiderOak’s cross-platform private cloud services are available for users on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, along with Android and iOS mobile devices, allowing for full flexibility and mobile access. SpiderOak offers amazing products likeSpiderOak Hive and SpiderOak Blue to secure consumer and enterprise data. You can signup for this product now


10 Responses to “Snapchat Not Safe From NSA Surveillance”

  1. FRISCO JOE says:

    Now the new revelations are shocking but not as bad as our own ignorance as maybe we are just a little too open for our own good but if people are really concerned about their security here are some really good tips:
    1.Quit using Windows at once and adopt Linux.
    2.Never ever open an Email account in your own name.
    3.For Gods sake start using Laptops not your desktop and buy one with cash under a false name.
    4.Use wifi not your home account.
    5.Learn to use one time pad for your emails as its easy to learn and even the supercomputers cant break it.
    6. Stay away from Drug Dealers, Coppers, Politicians and other @Scum.

    In short learn to live and be free!…

  2. Bryan says:

    That is completely intrusive that the NSA can access those Snapchats. It is better I suppose that they can only access unopened Snapchats, but it’s still worrisome that any picture sent could be retrieved by the government. Additionally, the fact that only Micah Schaffer and Bobby Murphy can retrieve the Snapchats is a bit more calming, as only two people can access those Snapchats from a remote location. I personally am not worried about my pictures being retrieved, but this does seem extremely counterintuitive to our rights to privacy and overly intrusive.

  3. H.N. says:

    Honestly, I do not think there is too much anymore that is safe from the government. With the digital age that we are living in, information is processed much to quickly and makes it very easy to get your hands on it. It really does not surprise me too much that snapchat is also vulnerable to big brother, but it does sadden me. What I would give just to go back to the days where we weren’t afraid of who saw our every move.

  4. Mike says:

    With technology constantly updating at the ease of our fingertips, it’s important to remember to protect yourself and your privacy. The further the internet and technology expands, the less privacy we have, and no one elses fault but our own. A perfect tip to protect your privacy is using the TOR browser. Albeit as it is, snapchat isnt safe from the NSA, but is anything really safe? We have this weird generation where everyone feels the need to post everything theyre doing, thinking, or saying, and it’s truly mind boggling how people get upset over their privacy when theyre the ones putting themeselves out there in the first place.

  5. Pascal says:

    The revelations about the NSA are chilling, but I think even without the omnipresent government snooping, using common sense about what you share publicly is essential. As the article states, people can take a screen shot of what you upload on snapshot. Even if snapshot deletes what you upload almost immediately after it is opened by the party you share it with, you must be wary of it being saved via screen shots. Avoid sharing anything that could be potentially embarrassing or violates any laws. It can easily come back to haunt you. I try to act as if everything I do or say on the internet creates a permanent trail that can be linked back to me. Perhaps that is a bit paranoid, but I think it is better to be overly cautious than to take risks with your personal information.

  6. Michael Desanto says:

    This is getting ridiculous at this point. We have slowly descended into the world of 1984. We have traded our liberty for security and our freedom and privacy has effectively evaporated right before our very eyes. It does not matter which party is in charge either. Our government has been playing us for fools for decades and it has only gotten worse. The right to privacy is a fundamental right in our Constitution. It is about time someone read it and followed it.

  7. Ana says:

    This does not come as a surprise towards me. I myself have used Snapchat, and at one point I did wonder: Can others view these photo’s somehow? This article clearly summed up the response I wanted, even if it is ludicrous. I don’t only think that the NSA is completely in the wrong for viewing these snaps, but it is an invasion of anyone’s privacy. I hate the fact that these things are not clearly disclosed.

  8. Matthew says:

    I may stop using SnapChat. What does the NSA want with silly SnapChat photos?? It seems kind of insane.

  9. Mikeal says:

    It’s really pointless to believe that the NSA doesn’t monitor every bit of data that they can. Snapchat is no exception. The data from snapchat can be retrieved even after its deleted by more tech savvy people. Why the NSA would want these pictures is beyond me, but the fact remains that they have their fingers in every facet of digital data.

  10. Brittany says:

    Of course! Anyone that thought Snapchat was totally safe was just kidding themselves. So make sure that when you send snaps, it is to someone who is going to open them right away. Screen shots can be taken on Snapchat so the whole purpose of the app is defeated.

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