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Saturday, 29 September 2018 05:53

Facebook flaws put information of 50m users, including Zuckerberg, at risk Featured

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Facebook flaws put information of 50m users, including Zuckerberg, at risk Pixabay

Two vulnerabilities in Facebook's "view as" feature — a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else — were exploited by attackers who gained access to the personal information of about 50 million users, among them those of chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, the company said on Friday.

It said it had fixed the flaw and informed the relevant law enforcement officials about it, according to a statement from Guy Rosen, vice-president of Product Management.

The news came the same day that a white hat from Taiwan said he would delete Zuckerberg's account on Sunday. According to the Daily Mirror, Chang Chi-yuan said he would delete the account while others watched.

Rosen said the flaw had been found on 25 September. "[It] allowed them [the attackers] to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts. Access tokens are the equivalent of digital keys that keep people logged in to Facebook so they don’t need to re-enter their password every time they use the app," he said.

He said the access tokens of 50 million accounts had been reset. "We’re also taking the precautionary step of resetting access tokens for another 40 million accounts that have been subject to a 'View As' look-up in the last year.

"As a result, around 90 million people will now have to log back in to Facebook, or any of their apps that use Facebook Login. After they have logged back in, people will get a notification at the top of their News Feed explaining what happened."

Rosen said the flaw had been caused by a change made to the video uploading feature in July 2017.

"The attackers not only needed to find this vulnerability and use it to get an access token, they then had to pivot from that account to others to steal more tokens," he said.

Commenting on the incident, Matt Chiodi, vice-president of Cloud Security at RedLock, said the vulnerabilities underscored the level of persistence on the part of attackers.

"If there’s a high enough value target, they will get in sooner or later," he said. "Remember that Facebook today employs over 10,000 cyber security professionals.

"No system or application is 100% secure. What's most intriguing is that despite a formal bug bounty program, the vulnerability has been present in Facebook code since July of 2017. It’s hard to believe that a vulnerability of this size would persist this long undetected.”

Rahul Kashyap, chief executive of security outfit Awake Security, said the immediate challenge was for Facebook to identify the accounts that had been touched and those which had been compromised.

"The 50 million number could change as we often have seen with past breaches. But it is quite likely a subset of those were specifically taken over," he said.

“What will be revealing is whether there is a pattern to whose accounts were being targeted, and whether that pattern will help reveal the identity of the attackers.

"Facebook knows what it knows now, but there’s always the possibility that attackers were able to get to more information. The large numbers in this breach could just be a decoy if threat actors were targeting specific individuals.

"This part of Facebook’s statement says it all: 'Since we’ve only just started our investigation, we have yet to determine whether these accounts were misused or any information accessed. We also don’t know who’s behind these attacks or where they’re based. We’re working hard to better understand these details – and we will update this post when we have more information, or if the facts change'."


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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