Huge Facebook data leak ‘echoes Cambridge Analytica’
Security mess-up in two apps that had access to users' info led to 540 million records flung into the ether
Millions of Facebook user records have been ”exposed to the internet” in what could be the latest Cambridge Analytica-style shambles for the social network, cyber security researchers have revealed.
Two apps that Facebook allowed to access to its users’ data stored personal information on insecure servers without putting security measures in place, according to Australian IT company UpGuard.
A total of 540 million records, including users’ Facebook IDs, comments, likes, reactions and account names, were found on a database uploaded by Mexican digital publisher Cultura Colectiva which was discovered on Amazon Web Service (AWS) cloud servers, a popular storage product.
A second database belonging to a now defunct Los Angeles-based social network app called The Pool Party, which included names, e-mail addresses, photos, friends lists and likes of 22,000 additional users, was also found.
Facebook has been working with Amazon to remove both sets of data but said it was investigating how long the information had been exposed for. The breach highlights Facebook’s struggle to police its rule that developers it shares user information with must store it in a secure manner, and bears the hallmarks of the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. Founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is already entangled in a criminal investigation into how political consultants used Facebook’s system to improperly harvest data from 87 million people.
This was made possible by tasking a developer to create a seemingly harmless personality test app, which when installed by Facebook users was granted access to the Facebook Application Programmer Interface (API) to pool their information, which was later sold to Cambridge Analytica.
Both Cultura Colectiva and At The Pool appear to have used Facebook’s API to gather information.
Along with user IDs, friend lists, location check-ins and events, the At The Pool app data found on AWS included a list of passwords. It is unclear whether these are Facebook passwords, but could potentially put account holders at risk if they have used the same passwords across different services. In a blog post detailing the leak, UpGuard wrote: “What ties them together is that they both contain data about Facebook users, describing their interests, relationships, and interactions, that were available to third-party developers.
“As Facebook faces scrutiny over its data stewardship practices, they have made efforts to reduce third-party access. But as these exposures show, the data genie cannot be put back in the bottle.
“Data about Facebook users has been spread far beyond the bounds of what Facebook can control today. Combine that plenitude of personal data with storage technologies that are often misconfigured for public access, and the result is a long tail of data about Facebook users that continues to leak.”
A Facebook spokesperson said: “Facebook’s policies prohibit storing Facebook information in a public database. Once alerted to the issue, we worked with Amazon to take down the databases. We are committed to working with the developers on our platform to protect people’s data.”
– Telegraph Media Group (2019)