UPDATED 20:38 EST / MARCH 31 2020

houseparty APPS

Houseparty offers $1M bounty for information on hacking smear campaign

Videoconference service Houseparty has offered a $1 million bounty to anyone who can provide details of what it says is a smear campaign claiming it has been hacked.

In one of the more strange alleged hacking stories during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports started appearing in the U.K. on Monday claiming that the service had been hacked. Some reports also claimed that the app has hacked user accounts on services such as those provided by PayPal Holdings Inc., eBay Inc., Instagram, Netflix Inc. and Spotify Technology Inc.

The reports in the U.K. media have their origin in alleged claims from users on social media, particularly Twitter Inc.

“We are investigating indications that the recent hacking rumors were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty,” the service, owned by Epic Games Inc., said on Twitter Monday. “We are offering a $1,000,000 bounty for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign to bounty@houseparty.com.”

The app does request permission to access a user’s camera, microphone, location data, phone contacts and connections on Facebook but should have no access to third-party apps.

“I believe they have to act quickly and there isn’t much they can do about it to protect their brand,” security researcher Lukas Stefanko told CNBC. “There is no evidence that Houseparty is connected to all these different hacked accounts.”

Looking at Twitter, it may be a case of false attribution combined with a fake smear campaign. Houseparty has surged in popularity during the coronavirus shutdowns, from below 150 on the top app lists to near the top 10 by download, according to data from App Annie.

There may be some new users of the app, of which there are millions, legitimately thinking that unrelated accounts have been hacked by Houseparty when they were hacked by other means.

The potential of a smear campaign is far more sinister. The only possible motivation for a campaign is to damage Houseparty and unless it was being done en masse by trolls for the “lulz,” only a competitor or perhaps a national state actor would have the motivation to do so.

Image: Houseparty

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