SINCE AT LEAST 2019, hackers have been hijacking high-profile YouTube channels. Sometimes they broadcast cryptocurrency scams, sometimes they simply auction off access to the account. Now, Google has detailed the technique that hackers-for-hire used to compromise thousands of YouTube creators in just the past couple of years.
Cryptocurrency scams and account takeovers themselves aren’t a rarity; look no further than last fall’s Twitter hack for an example of that chaos at scale. But the sustained assault against YouTube accounts stands out both for its breadth and for the methods hackers used, an old maneuver that’s nonetheless incredibly tricky to defend against.
It all starts with a phish. Attackers send YouTube creators an email that appears to be from a real service—like a VPN, photo editing app, or antivirus offering—and offer to collaborate. They propose a standard promotional arrangement: Show our product to your viewers and we’ll pay you a fee. It’s the kind of transaction that happens every day for YouTube’s luminaries, a bustling industry of influencer payouts.