VIRAL video chat app Houseparty hasn't been hacked – and may have been targeted by a "commercial smear campaign", its creators say.
The app is now offering a staggering $1million reward for anyone who can bring the alleged perpetrator to justice.
Complaints about the popular video-calling service being "hacked" spread like wildfire online yesterday.
The hit app lets friends and family make video calls, play games and hang out in a virtual "house party".
However, large numbers of users on Twitter are reporting that they've had Spotify, PayPal and bank accounts hacked after downloading the app.
In a statement, Houseparty's creator Epic Games – the firm behind Fortnite and Gears of War denied a hack.
And a spokesperson later told The Sun that the hack claims may be part of a major hoax.
"We’ve found no evidence to suggest a link between Houseparty and the compromises of other unrelated accounts," an Epic Games spokesperson told The Sun.
"As a general rule, we suggest all users choose strong passwords when creating online accounts on any platform.
"Use a unique password for each account, and use a password generator or password manager to keep track of passwords, rather than using passwords that are short and simple."
The second statement read: "Our investigation found that many of the original tweets spreading this claim have been deleted and we've noticed Twitter accounts suspended.
"It's a disheartening situation for a service like ours that’s bringing people much needed face-to-face social connections and empathy at a critical time."
The Sun understands that Twitter has been unable to find evidence of a coordinated campaign at this time.
Houseparty said that it was "investigating indications that the recent hacking rumors were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign"
It added: "We are offering a $1,000,000 bounty for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign."
A number of Twitter accounts have reported issues after downloading the chat app.
One user wrote: "BOYCOTT HOUSEPARTY, just found out that’s how my Spotify was hacked and how many others are being hacked on various things, disconnect snapchat and delete account."
Another said: "Everyone who has the house party app I advise you to delete your account and delete the app as this is seemingly how fraud is happening and people’s emails etc are getting hacked.
"I know a lot of people will have this app."
And one wrote: "DELETE HOUSEPARTY! My PayPal which was with the same email address has been hacked and money taken from my bank!
They added: "It's happened to other people too."
So has House Party been hacked?
Houseparty claims – an expert weighs in
Here's what Javvad Malik, Security Awareness Advocate at KnowBe4, told The Sun…
- "There are a lot of comments on social media about accounts getting taken over with the finger of blame being pointed at Houseparty.
- "There is no evidence to prove these claims, and neither is it clear how these accounts are being breached.
- "It could be that bad actors have gained access to the passwords of Houseparty users and using those passwords against other websites.
- "Or it could very well be that the Houseparty app itself has been compromised and is stealing the credentials of users.
- "Affected individuals are advising people to delete their Houseparty account and delete the app off their device.
- "In addition, users should change their passwords to ensure they are strong and unique across different sites.
- "In addition, they should enable 2-factor authentication (2FA) on sites wherever it is available.
- "Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to this conundrum and little can be done until more details become available. "
There are several explanations for this phenomenon that don't involve a mass-hack of Houseparty users.
For a start, it could be plain old coincidence: cyber-crime is on the rise currently as hackers prey on confusion and interest in the coronavirus crisis.
It's possible that many of these Houseparty users may have simply been caught out by another scam.
There may be an element of social media hysteria at play here too.
Many of the users are reporting anecdotal issues – and citing "friends of friends" – which are telltale signs of a hoax.
Simply put, you might not need to rush out and delete House Party right now.
"There is a rising wave of cybercrime activity directly linked to the global uptake of group social media platforms now that everyone is in isolation," said Brian Higgins, a cyber-security specialist from Comparitech, speaking to The Sun.
"I’d definitely recommend deleting any apps you think may be causing you and your contacts harm.
"However, in this case I’d give Houseparty a chance to investigate and explain what’s happening.
"They're clearly providing a vital service to people’s mental health and wellbeing.
"By all means do whatever you think is necessary to stay safe online while the COVID-19 pandemic plays, out but it’s always best to make informed decisions.
"There are any number of reasons why the online activity highlighted on Twitter could be happening.
"I’d follow Epic Games on Twitter for a while and wait until it’s safe to use their app again."
Houseparty – what is it?
Here's what you need to know…
- Houseparty is a popular social networking app
- It offers group video-calling through mobile and desktop apps
- Users receive notifications when friends are online and available to talk
- The app was launched by Life On Air in 2016, after $12million in venture capital was raised
- The company partnered with Ellen DeGeneres's app Heads Up! in early 2019
- And in June 2019, Houseparty was acquired by Epic Games for an undisclosed sum
- Epic Games is a major US company that owns popular games Fortnite and Gears of War
- Houseparty has seen a surge in popularity during the coronavirus lockdown
But not everyone is convinced that this is a coincidence.
"I am afraid I don't believe in coincidences," said cyber-expert Peter Draper, of Gurucul, speaking to The Sun.
"Especially at the moment with bad actors trying every single angle to exploit the current situation and people's need to communicate with friends and family during lockdown.
"It is highly likely that Houseparty has been compromised in some way, whether that is the core infrastructure, the software download or just a hook into the data."
There is currently no evidence that Houseparty has been hacked.
In other news, find out how to sign up to the official WhatsApp coronavirus chatbot.
Former Nasa scientist Mark Roberts used "glow powder" to show how quickly germs spread.
And a hilarious prankster has revealed a cheeky way to skip out on dull virtual meetings while working from home.
Have you experienced any issues using House Party recently? If so, let us know in the comments!
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