How I Could Steal Money from Instagram, Google and Microsoft

TL;DR: Instagram ($2000), Google ($0) and Microsoft ($500) were vulnerable to direct money theft via premium phone number calls. They all offer services to supply users with a token via a computer-voiced phone call, but neglected to properly verify whether supplied phone numbers were legitimate, non-premium numbers. This could have allowed a dedicated attacker to steal thousands of EUR/USD/GBP/… . Microsoft was exceptionally vulnerable to mass exploitation by supporting virtually unlimited concurrent calls to one premium number. The vulnerabilities were submitted to the respective Bug Bounty programs and properly resolved.

Instagram: Link Account to Premium Number

Instagram supports linking a mobile phone number to an account, which allows other users to look them up in Instagram’s global address book. After entering the mobile phone number, Instagram sends a text with the 6-digit token:

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However, if one does not enter the code within three minutes on the following screen, Instagram will call from California:

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This call would last around 17 seconds. The underlying request who causes this is the one outlined below in burp repeater:


The request to https://i.instagram.com/api/v1/accounts/robocall_user/ could only be replayed once every 30 seconds due to rate limiting. However, it was also noticed that Instagram would happily call any number that was supplied to them, such as a premium number of 0.06 GBP/minute in the UK registered via eurocall24.com:

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As a PoC, 60 additional calls were made in an automated fashion with Burp Intruder, each with 30 seconds throttle in between. This concluded the theft of one symbolic pound over the course of 17 minutes:


One attacker could thus steal 1 GBP per 30 minutes, or 48 GBP/day, 1.440 GBP/month or 17.280/year with one [instagram account, premium number] pair. However, a dedicated attacker could easily setup and manage 100 of these pairs, increasing these numbers by a factor 100: 4.800 GBP/day, 144.000 GBP/month or 1.728.000 GBP/year.

Additionally, it turned out that an attacker would only need one premium number and 100 Instagram accounts. The rate limiting threshold of 1 request / 30 seconds was for accounts only. The premium number could happily be used to link to different Instagram accounts concurrently.

Facebook’s Remediation

First response of Facebook on the submission:

This is intentional behavior in our product. We do not consider it a security vulnerability, but we do have controls in place to monitor and mitigate abuse.

Were they actually giving me a free pass to directly steal money from Instagram here?


After some discussions and extrapolating calculations from 1 to 100 accounts, Facebook elaborated:

Thanks for following up — because these requests are routed through a dedicated service for monitoring and blocking abuse, “intentional behavior” in this case is considered “accepted risk”. Generally speaking, attacks that depend on multiple accounts under attacker control fall under the “spam or social engineering techniques” category of ineligible reports for the whitehat program.

And finally, after some more elaboration from my side (“100 accounts can be easily created manually”):

Hello again! We’ll be doing some fine-tuning of our rate limits and work on the service used for outbound calls in response to this submission, so this issue will be eligible for a whitehat bounty. You can expect an update from us again when the changes have been made. Thanks!
We have looked into this issue and believe that the vulnerability has been patched (rate limits adjusted and some additional monitoring in place).


  • 5 September 2015: Initial bug report sent to Facebook
  • 13 November 2015: Initial decline of Facebook (see above), followed by elaboration from my side
  • 21 December 2015: Second decline of Facebook (see above), followed by elaboration from my side
  • 22 December 2015: Acceptance of the bug report
  • 6 January 2016: Vulnerability patched
  • 9 January 2016: Bug bounty of $2000 awarded.
  • 11 January 2016: Confirmation of bounty multiplication by a factor two ($4000) to donate to Non-Profit Let Us Change Ethiopia, which supports street Children in Ethiopia.

I got to keep the acquired 1 GBP.

Google: Two Factor Authentication via Premium Number

The case of Google was a tad bit more complicated. Google doesn’t call during the mobile phone linking process, but they do have an option to call to communicate a 6-digit 2FA token:


Entering a premium number here would result in a phone call from Google, but the number would be blocked after a few attempts when no valid token is entered. However luckily, eurocall24.com supported forwarding the call to a SIP server (“Callcentre”) and consuming them with a SIP client (Blink in this case) so I could actually hear the message out loud:



By linking a premium number to this callcentre and then entering it as 2FA mobile number, we would receive the call in our client and be able to hear & enter the correct 6-digit token to confirm it:



Once passed the registration, it was identified that Google allowed to make 10 phone calls/hour to the mobile phone number by attempting to login. Whether the call was actually received and the login was successful or not did not matter, which surprised me a bit. I was already mentally preparing myself for some SIP Server -> Voice recognition -> Selenium script chaining, but that turned out to be unnecessary.

First, the call destination for the premium number on eurocall24.com was modified to a standard “conference service”, so I wouldn’t be bothered by it anymore. Then, a selenium script to login with username & password to the 2FA-protected account was recorded with the Firefox IDE plugin & exported to a login.py python script. Last but not least, a second quick & dirty python script loop.py was designed to execute the former one every 6 minutes and executed. Two hours and 17+1 (enrollment) calls later, the symbolic Euro was mine again.


10One call lasts for approximately 35 seconds. A quick calculation reveals that an attacker would be able to steal 12 EUR/day = 360 EUR/month = 4.320 EUR/year with one premium number at this rate. However, an attacker could easily manage and maintain around 100 premium numbers and Google accounts linked to them, multiplying the magnitude of the impact with a factor 100 to 1.200 EUR/day = 36.000 EUR/month = 432.000 EUR/year. In the case of Google, actual unique pairs of [Google Account, premium number] were required.

Google’s remediation

It looks like we have mitigations in place, and because of how the whole telco industry works, it’s impossible to prevent it completely from happening. The attempt to exfiltrate the money would be stopped after a short time though, as we have the mitigations in place to detect it, so there’s that.

Because of the above, the panel decided not to reward this report financially (as we said, Google money loss for our process is less important than users security). It qualified for the credit though – you’ll appear in a Google Hall Of Fame.


  • 9 February 2016: Initial bug report sent to Google VRP
  • 10 February 2016: Initial response of Google, suggesting I use the vulnerability to break into please.break.in@gmail.com
  • 10 February 2016: Email sent to Google asking for clarification
  • 11 February 2016: Response from Google saying their previous mail was not meant to be sent to me, and they are investigating the issue until further notice.
  • 16 February 2016: Initial decline of Google: “This issue has very little or no security impact, and therefore we believe that it is not in scope for the program”, followed by elaboration of my side
  • 17 February 2016: Response from Google saying that the previous mail was an automated response which shouldn’t have been sent, and they are still investigating the issue. However, adding that “Surprisingly, money is less sensitive/impactful than access to user data. That’s not to say money isn’t important, it’s just that money is easy to recover from than user trust, so while I agree it’s ironic, I think it’s better for our users like this :)”
  • 23 February 2016: Update from Google that the investigation is still ongoing
  • 1 March 2016: Final response of Google (see above).

Microsoft: Office 365 Trial Registration with Premium Number

During Office 365 Trial Registration, one can submit a phone number to which a call is made by Microsoft. It was found that Microsoft actually called to entered premium numbers, but blocked the number after 7 failed registration attempts via this number:

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However, two different bypasses for this protection mechanism were identified which allowed, many, many more calls to the premium number.

Prepended zeroes

It was found that by prepending the number with a zero, the number would again be accepted and result in another call to the same underlying premium number. Moreover, this trick could be repeated 18 times, since the normal number prepended with 18 zeroes would still be accepted. Finally, It was found that by replacing a random prepending zero pair with the country code of the premium number’s country ( in this case 48 – Poland), the call would still be made:

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The following formula describes the total amount of additional number variations that can be made by exploiting this first block bypass method, where variable n describes the length of the padding in front of the phone number:


  • For n = 1, there is one option to prepend with “0″
  • For n = 2, there is an option to prepend with “00” or “48”
  • For n = 3, there is an option to prepend with “000”, “480” or “048″

The total number of variations for one premium number is thus 171+1=172 now.

Appended random digits

An additional bypass was found by appending the number with maximum 4 random digits (in this screenshot, 1111):



The total number of combinations that can be made with four random trailing digits is given by the following formula, where i describes the number of trailing digits:

  • For i = 0, there is 1 possibility (no appended digits)
  • For i = 1, there are 10 possibilities (0-9)
  • For i = 2, there are 100 possibilities (00-99)
  • For i = 3, there are 1000 possibilities (000-999)
  • For i = 4, there are 10000 possibilities (0000-9999)

Since this trailing number can be appended to any accepted number, the following calculation describes the total amount of calls that Microsoft will make to a single premium number:

(172*11111) * 7 = 13.377.644 calls/premium number

Each call takes approximately 23 seconds, so let’s take 20 to make the calculations easier. The premium number yielded 0,15 EUR/minute:

(13.377.644/3)*0,15 = 668.882 EUR/premium number

Concurrent calls

On top of this, Microsoft allowed concurrent calls to the same premium number. Eurocall24.com limits the number of concurrent calls from one source address to one of its premium numbers to 10, so a PoC was performed where 2*10 concurrent calls were made within less than one minute, yielding a little more than 1 EUR profit:



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In the end, an attacker could thus steal an enormous amount of money in very little time by automating this exploitation approach with multiple premium numbers.

Microsoft’s remediation

The prepending and appending bypasses for the number blocking mechanism were fixed in two phases (March & July 2016). A $500 minimum bounty reward was my share.

The reward decisions are made by an adjudication team for the bounty program that is making the award. We aim to grant awards based on their impact to 1) Microsoft customers and then 2) Microsoft itself. Given that there is a 3rd party that performs this service for us, the impact to Microsoft for this weakness was negligible. Even though the bulk of the risk was to a company Microsoft works with, and not Microsoft itself, we still chose to award a bounty.

This was certainly a vulnerability, and a good one, and thus we’ve chosen to award a five hundred dollar bounty. From a security standpoint we put a premium on protecting our customers specifically, and while this vulnerability was worth awarding and fixing, we did not see a way in which our customer’s data was put at risk. We always want to encourage researchers to spend their time helping us protect the users, but in this case, we certainly want to provide a reward for helping to protect us and our partners.


  • 14 February 2016: Initial bug report sent to Microsoft Security Response Center
  • 15 February 2016: Initial confirmation by Microsoft
  • 11 March 2016: Initial fix communicated by Microsoft
  • 13 March 2016: Response by me that retest indicated that only the prepending bypass was fixed, not the appending bypass
  • 15 March 2016: Confirmation of retest result by Microsoft
  • 3 June 2016: Communication of Bounty value of $500
  • 6 June 2016: Question for elaboration of the Bounty decision with regards to the vulnerability impact
  • 15 July 2016: Elaboration of Microsoft with regards to the Bounty value (see above) and confirmation of the fix deployment


Belgian. IT Security. Bug Bounty Hunter.


  1. Wow, awesome work and a totally unique approach to this from what I’ve seen before. Wasn’t aware this was even a thing!

  2. “We always want to encourage researchers to spend their time helping us protect the users, but in this case, we certainly want to provide a reward for helping to protect us and our partners.” – That, from Microsoft, was very gracious and well-said. I’ve been more impressed with Microsoft lately on other fronts, and seeing that kind of gracious reply makes me like the cultural changes they’ve been undertaking even more.

  3. Usage of a library such as LibPhoneNumber to weed out premium and other expensive numbers is a useful first step.

  4. This one was really worth the bounty effort. Rest assured, a good read indeed.

  5. 07418 1xxxxx isn’t a premium rate number. It’s a UK mobile phone number.

    Quite how this range pays out 6p per minute is a mystery. The mobile termination rate for this range, and for all other mobile numbers starting 071-075 and 077-079 has been subject to Ofcom’s MTR cap reductions since 1 May 2015. The cap was set at 0.68p per minute from that date, and subsequently reduced to 0.49p per minute from 1 April 2016.

    Mobile numbers allocated in Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man are outside of these controls. The 07418 1xxxxx range appears to be allocated to a telecoms provider on the UK mainland.

    UK premium rate numbers start 070, 084, 087, 090, 091, 098 and 118 plus various five-digit mobile shortcodes.

    • I want to ask a question , is these premium numbers owned by Eurocall24 itself or by individuals ? because i have called a number and someone insulted me lol

  6. Interesting the varied responses, response times and reward. Shows the challenge of keeping a whitehat white.

    • Definitely it’s not easy. That’s why there are so many blackhat’s, becaues companies often send automatic replies and that’s not acceptable.

  7. From a blackhats point of view,

    you should’ve just abused that, and run away with that money! Would have been more rewarding.

    Nice article and very interesting approach. Actually a genius approach!
    Nice work! 🙂

  8. So, how is this behavior beneficial? These companies exploit every loophole there is to “save” millions upon millions of tax payments. Honest tax payers are the ones who really make a contribution, they are the ones who have money taken from them here. What are you doing to help those? Why are you helping the takers instead? You are not white, you’re something neutral at best.

    You may be a talented hacker but your moral compass is complete shit.

    • I agree with priklopull. You should have just exploited it and then gave the money to charity or services being cut by the government because google doesnt pay its taxes and finds loopholes in our tax system. Also you didnt get anything for your brownnosing efforts anyway!

  9. This is nothing new, it’s been going on for years. FYI: exploiting the loopholes is vastly more profitable than reporting them to these huge companies and hardly getting paid for your work and research.

  10. I have a question , from where comes the money , i could not understand !

    • You get yourself a premium rate number that earns money from incoming calls.

      You enter this number as your contact number.

      The company calls this number and you earn money from the call every time they call.

      That’s how it worked until the loophole was closed.

  11. A very nice potential yield discovered by a fine smart white-hat ! Congratz

  12. Lyian, I will, If I was this guy, right now I would have on my account many numbers….

    And, I’m pretty sure the autor of this article is very disappointed with the bountys. 2.500$ for saving millions……
    I don’t know, maybe if it is a complicated spot for monetice, or if this involve users data or something I can understand but this only affect companys that in most cases steals more or less to you, I will really fuck them If I was you.

  13. Hey,
    I’m new to android app reverse engineering. I’m fail to setup on my PC.
    Can u help me how to intercept the android connections via burpup suite. .

  14. Really good work and very interesting!

    This is not meant as a criticism, but since this is written in English you might consider swapping the decimal points and commas in the figures. Just a suggestion…
    Keep up the good work

    • More universally understood is spaces for thousands and a point as the decimal seperator.

  15. Creative, clever, succinctly written, candid, entertaining and educational read. Thank you for sharing. Admire our ethics. Entirely agree with others commenting: you truly ought to have been paid more by all three industry giants. Cheers and I look forward to reading your blog forever more.

  16. Great job, but they might have paid a bit more for the countless hours you must have spent on this.

  17. I’m curious if you tried any of the conference systems. WebEx and others offer the ability to have the conference call your phone.

    • Nope, I haven’t. I’ve focused on companies who have a public bug bounty program, and I don’t believe they are among that list?

  18. In one word: Awesome.

    Recommend that you might also try hacking: Craigslist and Apple Maps Contect (for business listing)

    Curious– What was your financial summaries from this escapade? (e.g. total revenue including rewards, hours spent)

    BTW- you have one typo:
    “An additional bypass was found by appending the number with maximum 4 random characters ”
    Based upon your calculations, I believe you intended to use the word “4 random digits”; since 4 random characters would yield over 17MM combinations; whereas digits provides just above 11k.

    • Hi,

      Thanks! On your financial summaries question: hard to answer precise, but this was certainly not the best return-on-investment time- and bounty-wise. But I did have good fun investigating this.

      Great remark about the typo – I updated my post. Luckily, the maths were still correct :-).

  19. hello! thank you for such detailed describing.
    i an new in all this stuff,and i didn’t understand moment with sip server and call center.
    I realise that somehow you forwarded call from eurocall’s number to somewhere

    can you explain this please?

  20. A company called iconectiv sells a dataabase of all of these risky number ranges. It is recommended to implement these to block the risk of the bad calls.

  21. Awesome work, many sites that are not on bug bounty are still vulnerable to this. Excellent find!!

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