Montreal woman learns a lesson in cybersecurity after Instagram is hacked

For nine years, Amanda Polito's Instagram was a positive part of her day. Now, it's a source of stress and anxiety.

Polito's account was recently hacked. She says the scammer is now masquerading as her, even sending her taunting messages and offers to buy cryptocurrency.

But complaints to the social media platform have earned her no response at all, Polito told CTV News.

"I haven't got any help from Instagram," said Polito, who lives Montreal's Riviere-des-Prairies borough.

"She was feeling totally violated," added her mother, Caterina Polito, who likened the experience to a break-in.

"If you really were robbed once in your home, you know how scary that is, and it's pretty scary to think a stranger has access to all of your private pictures," she said.

AN EXPERT'S ADVICE

To prevent similar incidents, cybersecurity expert Terry Cutler says users need strong passwords and should vary them for every account.

His company Cyology Labs gets five to ten requests a week from clients who have been hacked, and even offers an online guide on recovery.

He says it's an experience that can happen to anybody.

"Let's say they register their email on a real estate website and they get hacked. Cyber-criminals get access to that data and sell it on the dark web, and start decoding passwords," he explained. "And if your password is weak, now they can start logging into bank accounts, Hotmail, Gmail, all these accounts that don't have two-step verification."

Two-step verification is when a six-digit code is sent to your phone so you can unlock your account. If you don't have this code, you can't have access.

Cutler advises tech users to go into their settings and make the change.

"It really take one minute and it'll save your digital life."

Amanda Polito did not have the two-step verification process set up on her Instagram when the account was broken into.

Her private life has been exposed, and she says she's afraid to check her messages.

"I still feel anxious when I go on Instagram," she said.

Many free platforms are flawed, Cutler adds, and don't always operate in the user's favour.

"If you're not paying for the product, you are the product." 

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