Cover image illustrating digital security with a padlock and icons of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, representing protection against social media hijacking and AI identity theft.

In the rapidly evolving landscape of social media, security has become a paramount concern for individuals and businesses alike. As an expert in digital security, I have witnessed firsthand the sophisticated tactics cybercriminals employ to compromise social media accounts. Recently, there has been a notable increase in hijackings on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, with a significant number of these attacks targeting users in South Africa.

Facebook Profile Hijacking

Cybercriminals have refined their methods, starting with deceptive messages sent via Facebook Messenger. These messages aim to trick users into revealing their login credentials. The attackers exploit a vulnerability within a Facebook app, embedding a link to a phishing website disguised as a genuine “Show profile” button. When users click this button, they are redirected to a fake Facebook login page that mimics the authentic one, using the “m.facebook.com” URL within the app’s embedded web browser. This approach has proven particularly effective on Android devices.

Once the attackers obtain a user’s login details, they swiftly exploit Facebook’s security protocols to lock out the legitimate owner. They change the account’s password and recovery settings, making recovery challenging. If the hijacked account manages a business page, the consequences can be even more severe. Cybercriminals appoint themselves as administrators and post prohibited content, leading to the suspension of personal accounts while they maintain control of the business page. Linked Instagram accounts are similarly at risk.

Ai Identity Theft: An Emerging Threat

In addition to direct account hijacking, another significant threat is the rise of advanced AI technologies that can create deepfake videos and voice recordings. Fraudsters use AI to generate videos that look and sound like you, using images and videos from your social media posts. These deepfakes are then sent to your Facebook and WhatsApp contacts, asking for money or promoting fraudulent schemes like fake cryptocurrency investments. Victims are more likely to fall for these scams because the messages appear to come from someone they trust.

This trend has been exacerbated by technological advancements and the surge in data breaches. Fraudsters are blending real personal details with fabricated information to create synthetic identities. Personal information such as ID numbers, bank account details, contact numbers, and retail account information are prime targets for these criminals.

To protect against these threats, it is crucial to verify and authenticate any request for information, avoid sharing identifiable information with strangers, and take extra caution when storing or disposing of personal documents. Staying informed and vigilant is essential in today’s digital world.

WhatsApp Account Hijacking

South Africans are also increasingly targeted by hackers on WhatsApp. Regaining control of a hijacked WhatsApp account is relatively straightforward, but the initial takeover can cause significant disruptions. A recent case reported by a MyBroadband reader illustrates this growing concern.

The victim got a message from a known contact on WhatsApp, asking for a 6-digit code from an SMS. The contact said they sent it by mistake. Despite suspicions, the victim shared the code because the message was in their language. Shortly after, the victim got locked out of their WhatsApp account. Their contact’s account was hacked, and hackers took over. The victim’s account was used to spam groups with explicit images and label them as “Hack group virus attack.” They removed members and tried to get more control.

Luckily, the victim’s cellphone number wasn’t compromised via a SIM swap. They re-registered their device by requesting a new 6-digit code via SMS. However, the process was delayed by an error message due to too many code-guessing attempts—a security measure by WhatsApp against brute force attacks. After days of frustration, the victim contacted WhatsApp support in the app, shared the issue with a screenshot, and eventually received a 6-digit code via SMS to regain account access.

It’s important to note that hackers may activate and set a PIN on a compromised account, delaying recovery. WhatsApp allows new device registration without a PIN after seven days, provided the user still controls the phone number. Users can also add an email address as a backup verification method, which is recommended to avoid lengthy recovery times.

How to Defend Yourself

Protecting yourself and your business from these threats requires proactive measures. Here are some recommended actions:

  1. Activate Two-Factor Authentication (2FA):
    Enable 2FA on all your social media accounts. This additional layer of security significantly reduces the risk of account hijacking.
  2. Utilise Business Manager Access:
    Remove users with direct access to business Facebook pages and grant access only through Business Manager.
  3. Restrict Access:
    Revoke Business Manager access for users who have not enabled 2FA until they activate this security feature.
  4. Do Not Share Verification Codes:
    Never share verification codes received via SMS or email, even with trusted contacts.
  5. Immediate Notification:
    If your account is taken over, send a mass SMS from your number to notify contacts and warn them of any suspicious messages from your compromised account. 
  6. Create a Complex PIN:
    Set a complex but memorable PIN as an additional barrier during registration. 
  7. Email Verification:
    Set up email verification as a backup method for logging in, especially if you forget your PIN. 
  8. Handle SIM Swaps Quickly:
    If your number is compromised in a SIM swap, contact your mobile network immediately to block the number and obtain a new SIM card to re-register your device. 
  9. Create Complex Passwords:
    Use complex passwords that are hard to guess. 
  10. Don’t Reuse Passwords:
    Ensure each account has a unique password to prevent multiple accounts from being compromised simultaneously. 
  11. Beware of Phishing Attempts:
    Be vigilant about phishing attempts and avoid clicking on suspicious links. 
  12. Use Reputable Password Managers:
    Utilise password managers to securely store and manage your passwords. 
  13. Report Suspicious Activity: If you experience identity fraud, ID or passport theft, or any identity compromise, report it to the South African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS). Call the SAFPS helpline on +27 11 867 2234 or email [email protected]. Visit their website at https://www.safps.org.za/.

At Offernet, our Brandshield security team is committed to safeguarding our clients’ accounts and social media profiles. We urge everyone to implement these security measures promptly. Additionally, it is vital to immediately report any suspected phishing attempts or account compromises. Swift action is essential to protect your digital assets from these increasingly sophisticated threats.

If you believe your brand is being impersonated or would like to learn more about how Brandshield by Offernet can protect your business, I encourage you to contact us for a free consultation. Our team of experts is ready to assist you in securing your digital presence and ensuring that your social media accounts remain safe from cybercriminal activities.

Protecting your online identity has never been more critical. Don’t wait until it’s too late—take proactive steps today to safeguard your brand’s reputation and digital assets.


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About JG Bezuidenhout

JG Bezuidenhout is a founding partner of the South African subsidiary of Offernet.net, the data technology company housed in London, United Kingdom. Although based in Cape Town, JG is the global head of Offernet's advisory and innovation hub and, as such, is responsible for the monitoring and implementation of cutting-edge solutions, particularly within the digital marketing environment. Using advanced technologies such as big data and machine learning, as well as their bespoke Touchpoint Analytics™ system, Offernet can accurately and dramatically improve their clients' returns on advertising spend (ROAS). Their comprehensive approach to marketing, which includes advisory services, data analytics, and media buying, makes Offernet a valuable partner. If you want to take your marketing to the next level to achieve far more measurable results and align yourself with the growth strategies of the entire C-suite (and the company as a whole), Offernet is a logical choice.