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Pro-Palestinian hackers take over former Premier Heather Stefanson's Instagram account

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Former Manitoba premier Heather Stefanson says her Instagram account has been hacked.

On Thursday, the profile picture on Stefanson's account, which has more than 3,700 followers, was changed to that of what appears to be a member of the Al-Qassam Brigades – the military wing of Hamas, a group which Canada and other Western Nations has declared a terrorist group.

Stefanson's Instagram bio on the account was also changed, now reading: 'FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA PALESTINE WILL BE FREE.'

The account posted an image of a map of Israel with the words 'Free Palestine.'

"My Instagram account has unfortunately been hacked and we are working with Meta to retrieve it," Stefanson said in a post on her X account (formerly Twitter).

In a statement to CTV News, the Progressive Conservative party confirmed the account had been hacked, and reiterated Stefanson's post on X, saying they are working with Meta – Instagram's parent company – to retrieve it.

The party told CTV News it is unaware if any other accounts have been impacted.

The hack comes amid the Israel-Gaza war that started on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants launched a surprise deadly attack on Israel, which has prompted the country to retaliate against the Gaza Strip – leading to massive civilian casualties on both sides of the conflict.

Stefanson, in her role as premier, has said the province stands with Israel and condemns the Hamas attack, saying in a statement on Oct. 7 (the day of the initial attack) that she fully supports Israel's right to defend itself.

These kinds of hacks are not uncommon, according to David Gerhard, the head of computer science at the University of Manitoba.

"Often public figures are the target of hackers for a couple reasons," Gerhard told CTV News. "Because they interact with a lot of people which means they have a wide range, a hacker with a message to send can make that message go to a lot of people."

The fact that the hack involving pro-Palestinian posts was against Stefanson, who has voiced her support of Israel, may also be a factor.

"If one account has a certain kind of messaging, and then the hacker sends a different kind of messaging, then the people who normally hear that account would be likely to get more angry," Gerhard said.

He warns people should take proper steps to protect their accounts, including changing passwords regularly, don't use the same password more than once, and use two-step authentication.

As of Thursday evening, Stefanson's account had been removed, but by Friday morning, the account was reactivated.

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