Facebook says 50M user accounts affected by security breach

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes the keynote speech at F8, Facebook’s developer conference in San Jose, California Facebook says it recently discovered a security breach affecting nearly 50 million user accounts. (File photo / AP)
Updated 28 September 2018

Facebook says 50M user accounts affected by security breach

  • Facebook says it learned of the attack last week that allowed hackers to steal ‘access tokens, the equivalent of digital keys that enable them to access accounts
  • The breach is the latest privacy embarrassment for the leading social network

NEW YORK: Facebook reported a major security breach in which 50 million user accounts were accessed by unknown attackers.
In a blog post , the company says hackers exploited a bug that affected its “View As” feature, which lets people see what their profiles look like to someone else. That would let attackers steal “access tokens,” which are digital keys that Facebook uses to keep people logged in. Possession of those tokens would allow attackers to “seize control” of user accounts, Facebook said.
Specifically, from the “View As” feature, a bug somehow allowed a video uploader to appear for sending “happy birthday” messages, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management said. Another bug then created an access token that made Facebook think the hacker had legitimately signed in with the account being viewed.
“We haven’t yet been able to determine if there was specific targeting,” Rosen said in a call with reporters. “It does seem broad. And we don’t yet know who was behind these attacks and where they might be based.”
Facebook says it has taken steps to fix the security problem and alerted law enforcement.
To deal with the issue, Facebook reset some logins, so 90 million people have been logged out and will have to log in again. That includes anyone who has been subject to a “View As” lookup in the past year.
Facebook says it doesn’t know who is behind the attacks or where they’re based. In a call with reporters on Friday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company doesn’t know yet if any of the accounts that were hacked were misused.
Jake Williams, a security expert at Rendition Infosec, said the stolen access tokens would have likely allowed attackers to view private posts and probably to post status updates or shared posts as the compromised user, but wouldn’t affect passwords.
“The bigger concern (and something we don’t know yet) is whether third party applications were impacted,” Williams said in a text exchange. “Facebook offers a login service for third parties to allow users to log into their apps using Facebook. In other words, Facebook is providing the identity management for countless other sites and services. These access tokens that were stolen show when a user is logged into Facebook and that may be enough to access a user’s account on a third party site.”
The hack is the latest setback for Facebook during a year of tumult for the company.
News broke early this year that a data analytics firm that once worked for the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, had improperly gained access to personal data from millions of user profiles. Then a congressional investigation found that agents from Russia and other countries have been posting fake political ads since at least 2016. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared at a Congressional hearing over Facebook’s privacy policies in April.
Facebook has more than 2 billion users worldwide. The company said people do not need to change their Facebook passwords, but anyone having trouble logging on should visit the site’s help center . Those who want to log out can visit the “Security and Login” section of their settings, which lists the places that people are logged into Facebook. It offers a one-click option of logging out of all locations.
Ed Mierzwinski, the senior director of consumer advocacy group US PIRG, said the breach was “very troubling.”
“It’s yet another warning that Congress must not enact any national data security or data breach legislation that weakens current state privacy laws, preempts the rights of states to pass new laws that protect their consumers better, or denies their attorneys general rights to investigate violations of or enforce those laws,” he said in a statement.
Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said “the most important point is that we found out from them,” meaning Facebook, as opposed to a third party.
“As a user, I want Facebook to proactively protect my data and let me know when it’s compromised,” he said. “Shareholders should ultimately approve of Facebook’s handling of the issue.”


Spies, serial killers and secret marriages: MBC takes on Netflix

Updated 17 February 2020

Spies, serial killers and secret marriages: MBC takes on Netflix

  • Region’s biggest broadcaster fights for stake in one of world’s most youthful and affluent television markets

DUBAI: The controversial subject of secret marriages in Saudi Arabia will be the theme of MBC’s next big original production due to air in spring.

It highlights the shift in program style at the broadcaster as it comes into closer competition with global players such as Netflix and Amazon — both now producing drama with not only regional themes but also in the Arabic language.

At stake for both is the hearts and minds of one of the world’s most youthful and affluent television audiences — an advertising prize and as close as it comes to virgin territory for the rampaging global video-on-demand (VOD) market.

“Dahaya Halal” (Halal victims) is a Saudi series that tells the story of four girls who live together and are forced to marry in secret, said Johannes Larcher, who was hired to run MBC’s Shahid VOD service last year.

“It’s about loopholes to enable behaviors that are in the grey area of permissibility in Saudi Arabia,” said Larcher, who sees productions like this as a big part of MBC’s push to win the loyalty of the region’s youthful audience.  “We look for character-led, edgy, provocative and unique stories that really speak to current Arabs, especially younger audiences. We look for gritty characters that are multi-dimensional,” he said.

Taking on the unrivaled punching power of video-on-demand titan Netflix represents a daunting task — even for the biggest broadcasting outfit in the Arab world.

While Netflix walked away with only two Oscars from 24 nominations last week, its home- grown productions are becoming more prolific and it has started to pick up on the interest of Western audiences in the Middle East.

Last week it bought the rights to stream six short films produced in Saudi Arabia in a deal with a startup studio based in the Kingdom. The topics tackled include social taboos and extremism.

Netflix has also scored with bigger budget dramas that tap into the interest of the global TV audience in espionage and intrigue arising from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Among these is “The Spy,” a drama starring Sacha Baron Cohen of Ali G fame, playing Israel’s most famous spy, Eli Cohen, who after infliltrating the Syrian government in the 1960s was caught and executed.

That production received mixed reviews with some Arab critics dismissing it as Israeli propaganda. In Israel, Haaretz described it as “a one-sided story about a heroic Israeli spy thwarting dastardly Arabs.” 

Yet it succeeded in getting people talking and showed that the big themes of the Middle East have legs as a format for popular drama aimed at a global audience. And MBC has been quietly working on its own drama, “The Red Prince,” which covers prominent figures from the Palestinian cause in the 1970s, including Ali Hassan Salameh who was chief of operations for the “Black September” group responsible for the 1972 Munich massacre. 

“We want to tell the Arab story,” Larcher said. “If you watch “The Spy,” it’s clearly the story told from the Israeli standpoint.”

Larcher sees the broadcaster’s current crop of original content as being in a very different category to what Arab audiences have been offered until now and which he likens to a “factory” producing 30-episode shows targeting the peak viewing month of Ramadan. “There’s such a hunger for better content in this region,” he said. “If you look at some of the shows we have launched, like “Every Week Has A Friday,” I have never seen anything like this in this region in terms of the quality of execution, the directing, the acting and the script.” 

In this original Shahid production, written by Eyad Ibrahim and directed by Mohamad Shaker, the central character Laila lives with a man suffering from a mental disorder in a house where a series of crimes take place on Fridays.

“We are trying to develop distinctive content that has an extremely high-quality bar and really tells stories in a very different way to what you would expect on Arabic television,” Larcher said.

But can an Arab broadcaster with a much more conservative approach to content creation compete for a youthful audience already exposed to the kind of sex and violence shown on blockbuster productions such as “Game of Thrones”?

This may represent the major challenge for MBC and other Arab broadcasters seeking to push the envelope of homegrown Arab television drama. “What we are able to do at MBC, and I believe uniquely so, is tackle topics of controversy and relevance in a way that is suitable for this region,” Larcher said. “The proof will be in the pudding.”