Whether WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or Pinterest: Celebrities aren’t the only ones to use one or more social media channels to share their lives.
According to Statista (paywall) around 4.76 billion of us around the world now (2023) use social media — with no end in sight to the expansion.
It goes without saying that cybercriminals also benefit from this widespread use, and it’s a sad fact that they’re always finding ways to hack our social media accounts — and worse still if you’re the one whose account’s been hit by a hacker.
Read on to learn what the warning signs are that your social media account’s been hacked, what you can do about it, and — above all — how you can strengthen your protection.
What are the warning signs that your social media account’s been hacked?
The red flags that one of your social media accounts might have been hacked can vary, but the tell-tale signs are mostly clear:
- Suddenly, you might find yourself following a lot of strangers on your Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or TikTok account and liking or even commenting on their posts.
- Other people’s posts, pictures, videos, stories, or reels suddenly appear in your own profile or on your pinboard that you didn’t publish yourself.
- Messages are sent on your behalf.
- You can no longer access your social media account — even though you’re absolutely sure you’re using the right password. You know for sure that nothing’s wrong technically.
- You’ll be text a request to use the security code to reset your password or to log in — but you know for certain that it wasn’t you who input an incorrect password.
- An unusually large number of ads appear in your profile that don’t even remotely match your interests.
- You’ll be notified that someone’s logged into your account with an unknown device.
Steps to take if your social media account has been hacked
If one of your social media accounts has been hacked, you still have a few options to salvage your account. However, don’t delay if it’s happened to you.
- Change log ins for the affected social media profile.
- Also change the password for the email account that is stored in the profile.
- Message your contacts, or better still, tell them in person about the suspected hack.
What can I do if I’m locked out of my social media account?
If someone has logged in to your account without authorization and changed your password, it’s highly likely that this person will also change the email address that you would use to recover the password. In doing so, from that point on your social media account is actually in someone else’s hands.
In many cases, your only option is to contact the platform’s support team. The following links will help you:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hacked
- Instagram: https://help.instagram.com/149494825257596
- WhatsApp: https://www.whatsapp.com/contact/?lang=en&subject=messenger
- YouTube: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/76187?hl=en
- TikTok: https://support.tiktok.com/en/log-in-troubleshoot/log-in/my-account-has-been-hacked
Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to get rapid assistance via the various social networks’ support pages. That’s why we recommend reading our blogposts, where you can learn in more detail about what you can do if your WhatsApp or Instagram accounts have been hacked.
- Check them out to discover what your options are if your Instagram account’s been hacked.
- Or what to do if your WhatsApp account’s been hacked.
How can I shield myself from having my social media accounts hacked?
There are several ways you can increase your protection against your social media accounts being hacked, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be completely protected even if you do.
Turn on automatic updates
If you rarely use your social media apps and have not set them to update automatically, you may miss security updates — and practically send hackers an invite to read your data. App, software, and operating system updates are generally recommended, as they almost always plug security holes that appear over time.
Secure your smartphone
If you don’t lock your smartphone, anyone can access it without you knowing and take over your social media accounts in just a few taps. All it takes is a momentary lapse of concentration, and bam: Your smartphone’s in someone else’s hands.
There are now many ways you can lock your smartphone (PIN, iris scan, fingerprint), although how you turn on these features differs depending on what make and model smartphone you have. These features are there to be used, so be sure to do just that.
Beware of phishing emails
Be careful and pay close attention to the details if you receive an email from any of your social media platforms — it could be a phishing email. If you follow the links sent in it and log in, hackers could easily get your access data. It doesn’t bear thinking about what will happen if you use the same password for all your accounts.
Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA)
With online banking, you’re used to having to authenticate yourself in two steps, such as by using a TAN generator, a mobile TAN, or other method. The good news is that social media platforms are now actively offering 2FA to better shield your accounts.
However, this also requires that you check your email regularly, because you’ll also be alerted if someone tries to log into your social media account from an unknown device.
Use a password manager
If you use the same password for other accounts, change it to be on the safe side. You’re probably already familiar with what a secure password should look like: It should contain at least one number, one capital letter, and one special character — and you should use a different password for each of your accounts. But who can remember a bunch of different passwords?
Well, help is at hand in the form of a digital password vault like Avira Password Manager. Using one can save you a whole bunch of hassle: You only need to remember one master password, and this useful tool can generate all your other passwords for you. Avira Password Manager can help you improve the online security of all your online accounts — and strengthen your social media accounts’ protection in the process.
Get a VPN
From quickly checking your Facebook account on the train, watching a YouTube video, messaging via WhatsApp, or posting on Instagram: Many of us use social media apps on the go and might even use public Wi-Fi hotspots to save data.
It’s precisely for these situations that we recommend using a VPN — or virtual private network for short.
Avira Phantom VPN, for example, is a reputable VPN that offers you online privacy and can help better protect the data you send and receive online — and in doing so your social media accounts. Best of all, you can enjoy this protection even with the free version, with a data volume of 500 MB per month. Alternatively, you can opt for the premium version, which offers an uncapped data allowance.
How do hackers hack my social media account?
Cybercriminals employ a wide variety of methods to hack your social media accounts, some of which we’ve already mentioned. The good news is that you can close many of the potential attack entry points yourself without needing to be an IT whiz.
- If you use a simple, weak password for all your accounts, you’re making it very easy for hackers to hijack not only your social media accounts. This is where a digital password vault like Avira Password Manager can help.
- Typically, public Wi-Fi hotspots are not very well secured, which is something that cybercriminals know they can exploit. By using Avira Phantom VPN, you can use a VPN to better shield all the data you send and receive online.
- Apps that don’t get updated start to develop security holes over time, which online scammers often uncover very quickly and use to harm you. As such, make sure you keep your apps updated.
Phishing emails are an extremely common method that hackers use not just to hack into your social media accounts. Yet despite all the media warnings, we still fall into their trap if we’re not paying full attention.
Learn more about what phishing is all about and how you can protect yourself from this hacking method in our blogpost on phishing.
The impact of having your social media account hacked
Social media hacking can have a variety of negative impacts for those affected, including existential ones. One side effect that may just seem annoying can be that your social media channels are literally flooded with inappropriate ads.
But cybercriminals can also use your social media accounts to post illegal or pornographic content or sensitive political opinions on your behalf. They might even send your social media contacts messages containing malware on your behalf, which in many cases are just clicked or tapped on, leading to the malware spreading further.
Hackers also often target your social media account to steal your personal information, opening up even more options to do further damage. This can include selling your personal data on the dark web, especially since the trade in user data is very lucrative. Or they might be after your online banking credentials or seeking to target the company you work for.
Either way, social media hacking is an infringement of your online privacy, which in the worst case can even lead to a loss of your online identity.
Which social media account gets hacked the most?
Building on the stats we mentioned at the start, Facebook ranked first among the largest social networks and messenger services in January 2023 with around 2.91 billion global monthly active users (MAUs), closely followed by YouTube with 2.56 billion users. Third place went to WhatsApp with 2 billion users, with Instagram being the fourth most popular social media channel in the world with over 1.4 billion MAUs.
Given their prevalence, it’s easy to see why cybercriminals have been attacking our social media accounts on a large scale for a long time now — although, some social media platforms’ user profiles are compromised more often than others.
According to data presented by the Atlas VPN team, Instagram users suffered the most from account takeover in 2021. In total, 84% of account takeover victims reported that their Instagram accounts got hijacked by scammers. The data is based on the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) snap survey of individuals who reported being victims of a social media account takeover in 2021.