• Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022
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Up to 50m Facebook accounts breached in attack

  • Published at 06:35 pm September 29th, 2018
A figurine is seen in front of the Facebook logo in this illustration taken March 20, 2018 REUTERS

Facebook reset the 50 million breached accounts, meaning users will need to sign back in using passwords

Facebook revealed on Friday that up to 50 million accounts were breached by hackers, dealing a blow to the social network's effort to convince users to trust it with their data.

The social network is investigating the extent of harm done when hackers exploited a trio of software flaws to steal "access tokens," the equivalent of digital keys that enable people to automatically log back into the social network.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said engineers discovered the breach on Tuesday, and patched it on Thursday night.

"We don't know if any accounts were actually misused," Zuckerberg said. "This is a serious issue."

As a precaution, Facebook is temporarily taking down the "view as" feature - described as a privacy tool to let users see how their profiles look to other people.

"It's clear that attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook's code," said vice president of product management Guy Rosen.

"We've fixed the vulnerability and informed law enforcement."

Facebook reset the 50 million breached accounts, meaning users will need to sign back in using passwords.

The breach is the latest privacy embarrassment for Facebook, which earlier this year acknowledged that tens of millions of users had personal data hijacked by Cambridge Analytica, a political firm working for Donald Trump in 2016.

Facebook said it took a precautionary step of resetting "access tokens" for another 40 million accounts where the "view as" was used. This will require those users to log back in to Facebook.

Sophisticated hack

No passwords were taken in the breach, only "tokens," according to Rosen.

Information hackers appeared interested in included names, genders, and home towns, but it was not clear for what purposes, the executives said in a telephone briefing.

The stolen tokens gave hackers complete control of accounts. Facebook is trying to determine whether hackers tampered with posts or messages.

Hackers could have also gotten into third-party applications linked to Facebook accounts, but it was too early to determine whether that happened, according to the social network.

Attackers would have been able to meddle with Instagram accounts lined to Facebook, but could not have tampered with the social network's WhatsApp messaging service, according to executives.

Facebook said that it noticed an unusual spike in activity on September 16 and determined nine days later that it was malicious.

Hackers took advantage of a "complex interaction" between three software bugs, which required a degree of sophistication, according to Rosen. The vulnerability was created by a change to a video uploading feature in July of 2017.

The 50 million figure was the total number of accounts Facebook determined were breached by the attack since July of last year, but the social network did not disclose the earliest incursion.

Facebook this year is doubling to 20,000 the number of workers devoted to safety and security.

When asked why people should still trust Facebook with their personal information, Zuckerberg outlined anew ways the social network is ramping up defences.

"As I've said a number of times, security is an arms race," Zuckerberg said.

But Facebook may have deeper problems, said Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard law professor and co-founder of university's Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

"There is a structural problem here," Zittrain said in a tweet.

"Facebook has one of the best and most well-resourced cybersecurity outfits in the world, yet a breach of its servers appears to have compromised tens of millions of accounts in still-undisclosed ways."