Media & Entertainment

After account hacks, Twitch streamers take security into their own hands

Comment

Image Credits: Frederic J. Brown/AFP / Getty Images

Twitch has an account hacking problem.

After the breach of popular browser game Town of Salem in January, some 7.8 million stolen passwords quickly became the weakest link not only for the game but gamers’ other accounts. The passwords were stored using a long-deprecated scrambling algorithm, making them easily cracked.

It didn’t take long for security researcher and gamer Matthew Jakubowski to see the aftermath.

In the weeks following, the main subreddit for Amazon-owned game streaming site Twitch — of which Jakubowski is a moderator — was flooded with complaints about account hijacks. One after the other, users said their accounts had been hacked. Many of the hijacked accounts had used their Town of Salem password for their Twitch account.

Jakubowski blamed the attacks on automated account takeovers — bots that cycle through password lists stolen from breached sites, including Town of Salem.

“Twitch knows it’s a problem — but this has been going on for months and there’s no end in sight,” Jakubowski told TechCrunch.

Credential stuffing is a security problem that requires participation from both tech companies and their users. Hackers take lists of usernames and passwords from other breached sites and brute-force their way into other accounts. Customers of DoorDash and Chipotle have in recent months complained of account breaches, but have denied their systems have been hacked, offered little help to their users or shown any effort to bolster their security, and instead washed their hands of any responsibility.

Jakubowski, working with fellow security researcher Johnny Xmas, said Twitch no longer accepting email addresses to log in and incentivizing users to set up two-factor authentication would all but eliminate the problem.

The Russia connection

In new research out Tuesday, Jakubowski and Xmas said Russian hackers are a likely culprit.

The researchers found attackers would run massive lists of stolen credentials against Twitch’s login systems using widely available automation tools. With no discernible system to prevent automated logins, the attackers can hack into Twitch accounts at speed. Once logged in, the attackers then change the password to gain persistent access to the account. Even if they’re caught, some users are claiming a turnaround time of four weeks for Twitch support to get their accounts back.

On the accounts with a stored payment card — or an associated Amazon Prime membership — the attackers follow streaming channels they run or pay a small fee to access, of which Twitch takes a cut. Twitch also has its own virtual currency — bits — to help streamers solicit donations, which can be abused by the attackers to funnel funds into their coffers.

When the attacker’s streaming account hits the payout limit, the attacker cashes out.

The researchers said the attackers stream prerecorded gameplay footage on their own Twitch channels, often using Russian words and names.

“You’ll see these Russian accounts that will stream what appears to be old video game footage — you’ll never see a face or hear anybody talking but you’ll get tons of people subscribing and following in the channel,” said Xmas. “You’ll get people donating bits when nothing is going on in there — even when the channel isn’t streaming,” he said.

This activity helps cloak the attackers’ account takeover and pay-to-follow activity, said Xmas, but the attackers would keep the subscriber counts low enough to garner payouts from Twitch but not draw attention.

“If it’s something easy enough for [Jakubowski] to stumble across, it should be easy for Twitch to handle,” said Xmas. “But Twitch is staying silent and users are constantly being defrauded.”

Two-factor all the things

Twitch, unlike other sites and services with a credential stuffing problem, already lets its 15 million daily users set up two-factor authentication on their accounts, putting much of the onus to stay secure on the users themselves.

Twitch partners, like Jakubowski, and affiliates are required to set up two-factor on their accounts.

But the researchers say Twitch should do more to incentivize ordinary users — the primary target for account hijackers and fraudsters — to secure their accounts.

“I think [Twitch] doesn’t want that extra step between a valid user trying to pay for something and adding friction to that process,” said Jakubowski.

“The hackers have no idea how valuable an account is until they log in. They’re just going to try everyone — and take a shotgun approach.”
Matthew Jakubowski, security researcher and Twitch partner

“Two-factor is important — everyone knows it’s important but users still aren’t using it because it’s inconvenient,” said Xmas. “That’s the bottom line: Twitch doesn’t want to inconvenience people because that loses Twitch money,” he said.

Recognizing there was still a lack of awareness around password security and with no help from Twitch, Jakubowski and Xmas took matters into their own hands. The pair teamed up to write a comprehensive Twitch user security guide to explain why seemingly unremarkable accounts are a target for hackers, and hosted a Reddit “ask me anything” to let users to ask questions and get instant feedback.

Even during Jakubowski’s streaming sessions, he doesn’t waste a chance to warn his viewers about the security problem — often fielding other security-related questions from his fans.

“Every 10 minutes or so, I’ll remind people watching to set-up two factor,” he said.

“The hackers have no idea how valuable an account is until they log in,” said Jakubowski. “They’re just going to try everyone — and take a shotgun approach,” he said.

Xmas said users “don’t realize” how vulnerable they are. “They don’t understand why their account — which they don’t even use to stream — is desirable to hackers,” he said. “If you have a payment card associated with your account, that’s what they want.”

Carrot and the stick

Jakubowski said that convincing the users is the big challenge.

Twitch could encourage users with free perks — like badges or emotes — costing the company nothing, the researchers said. Twitch lets users collect badges to flair their accounts. World of Warcraft maker Blizzard offers perks for setting up two-factor, and Epic Games offers similar incentives to their gamers.

“Rewarding users for implementing two-factor would go a huge way,” said Xmas. “It’s incredible to see how effective that is.”

The two said the company could also integrate third-party leaked credential monitoring services, like Have I Been Pwned, to warn users if their passwords have been leaked or exposed. And, among other fixes, the researchers say removing two-factor by text message would reduce SIM swapping attacks. Xmas, who serves as director of field engineering at anti-bot startup Kasada — which TechCrunch profiled earlier this year — said Twitch could invest in systems that detect bot activity to prevent automated logins.

Twitch, when reached prior to publication, did not comment.

Jakubowski said until Twitch acts, streamers can do their part by encouraging their viewers to switch on the security feature. “Streamers are influencers — more users are likely to switch on two-factor if they hear it from a streamer,” he said.

“Getting more streamers to get on board with security will hopefully go a much longer way,” he said.

Read more:

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo