There's nothing pleasant about being hacked

Samantha Hayes
Samantha Hayes

Last night my Instagram account was hacked and every photo I had posted over the past four years was deleted. 

Some lovely character called "ohoziee" managed to log in and changed my password, shutting me out. 

Instagram sent an email advising me of this. I thought it might be a phishing scam, but I checked my account and yes, I had been hacked. 

The virtual violation felt very real. I panicked a little - what else had I used that same password for? 

Over the next hour I watched as all my photos were deleted and my username changed several times from "samanthahayes" to "ohoziee" to "kqmy" and now who knows what my account is called. It was brutal seeing it unfold and not being able to do anything to stop it.  

It was disturbing, but my response surprised me a little. I didn't immediately take to Instagram. I thought, I'm not a photographer, who would want to see my photos? But that's not the point of course - Instagram is a window into your life, a behind-the-scenes pass for your friends and family and followers, and over the years it became my favourite social media platform. I ticked over to 11,000 followers at the weekend when I posted this photo from the Remarkables, not a massive number by any means, but they were all authentic. It was my community and now they're gone. 

There's nothing pleasant about being hacked

Samantha Hayes' post from the Remarkables that saw her Instagram account reach 11,000 followers

"It has been your personal place of self-expression, secondly, your public face," says Auckland-based social media consultant Cate Owen. "When someone takes control of that and you don't know what they're going to do, it's incredibly violating."

What grates me the most isn't losing the photos, some I still have, but losing the people I followed. I loved looking at what they posted. It was my nightly ritual and just like that, it's gone.

So what can you do if you're hacked?

Ms Owen says there is not a lot you can do once a hacker has you in the cross hairs.

"Essentially once they've got their eye on you it's really hard to get away from them. It's just about minimising the damage they can do by changing passwords, using two-step authentication, making sure you don't use the same password everywhere and regularly changing passwords.

"Two step authentication is a pain in the ass, but do it. Everyone grumbles but once you get in the habit it's ok. It is like locking your house."

It seems the Instagram process is far from sound. I notified the app immediately and received an automated email which asked for a photo of me featuring a handwritten numerical sequence. I imagine this was to visually verify I was the authentic account user, the person emailing was the same as the person in the photos and the numbers were to make sure it had been taken after the email was sent.

I sent the photo.

There's nothing pleasant about being hacked

The photo Samantha was asked to send to verify she owned her Instagram account

Meanwhile, the hacker was deleting all my images, so the window for Instagram to verify it was my account was rapidly closing. 

I sent six emails over the next few hours updating the support team about what was happening. I'm yet to get a response. 

So, I wrote to my followers on other social media platforms. 

There's nothing pleasant about being hacked

People were kind. 

There's nothing pleasant about being hacked

I emailed Instagram again this morning. Still nothing.

In Australia, a massively popular fitspo Instagram account called "basebodybabes" lost over half a million followers in exactly the same manner.

The duo behind the brand, Sydney sisters Diana Johnson and Felicia Oreb, told news.com.au when Oreb tried to view their profile one weekend in July 2015, she realised she had been logged out and the password wasn’t working. 

"I picked up my husband’s phone and checked the page where I was shocked to see only 170 of our 765 images were left on the profile," said Ms Oreb.  

"Before my eyes, the images were being deleted one after another and within a few minutes, the entire account was deleted and the name was changed to ‘dailyfitnessbabes’."

I have never and will never be paid for a post, but Instagram generated a large income stream for basebodybabes.

Johnson told Daily Mail Australia: "They had stolen literally everything. 

"For us it's absolutely devastating, that's our business and our brand."

The pair worked with the Instagram teams in Australia and America and were able to reverse much of the damage and retrieve their account. 

Whether Instagram will do the same for its small fry users like me remains to be seen.

If you have had a similar experience please contact SamanthaHayes@mediaworks.co.nz

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