Is Your Netflix Account Being Hacked?

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If a hacker was “sharing” your Netflix account, would you know? And should you care?

Security firm Symantec recently warned that around the world, hackers have created a thriving black market in stolen — well, let’s call it “shared” — video service accounts. It’s easy to see how this happens. After all, friends and family share online video accounts all the time. Depending on your type of account, multiple people on multiple screens can use the service simultaneously. They don’t have to be on the same network, or even in the same city.

How big is the problem?

Criminals steal Netflix login data through phishing attacks or other methods, then sell the credentials for as little as 25 cents online. That’s much cheaper than $10 a month. It’s unclear how common this is, and Netflix did not respond to a request for comment, but Symantec is convinced it’s a big deal.

“Symantec can’t quantify the number of compromised Netflix accounts, but one ad we saw online claimed to have 300,000 accounts in stock. This could be false advertising, but the fact that there’s a black market for stolen accounts leads me to believe there are quite a few,” said Satnam Narang, senior security response manager, Norton by Symantec. “The bulk pricing listed in the ads we’ve seen also indicates a large number of stolen accounts.”

Criminals are organized enough to warn buyers not to change the passwords of the accounts they are selling, because that would alert the rightful account holder that something was wrong.

Is it a victimless crime?

“Victims” of the crime might not see it as such a big deal. Criminals aren’t stealing bandwidth, for example. But it’s obvious how the problem could escalate. Someone with access to your Netflix account could piece together lots of personal details about you — even if your credit card number is obscured. That could be used as the basis for other crimes. Also, odds are high you use the Netflix login on other websites, so criminals fueled by this economy of Netflix hacks almost certainly will get into other things.

The real victim here is Netflix, which is losing revenue from legitimate subscriptions. Right now, most video services are pretty laissez-faire about account sharing among family members. In fact, executives from HBO and Netflix have all but endorsed sharing in the past.

“We love people sharing Netflix whether they’re two people on a couch or 10 people on a couch,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said earlier this year. “That’s a positive thing, not a negative thing.” Many kids who use their parents’ account end up being paying customers, he thinks.

That convenience almost certainly will end if Netflix “hacks” rise dramatically. There’s all sorts of ways you could imagine Netflix and other services cracking down.

So what does this mean for you? Don’t let a criminal piggyback on your account. If you start seeing strange movie recommendations, investigate. In fact, go ahead and change your password every few months (that’s always a good idea anyway). Keep Netflix safe for sharing.

More stories by Bob Sullivan.

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