Anti-Social Media

Like many others, I’ve been at least partially assimilated by the social media Cookie Monster. Once upon a time I opened accounts on sites like Facebook and Twitter, so as to find out about their implications for security. (Like many others in the security profession, I suspect.) They also quickly became integrated into my armoury as a means of exchanging and disseminating information, whether it’s a matter of hard data or work-oriented PR. And when friends, colleagues and fellow musicians (some people, of course, are members of two or all three of those sets!) found me on those platforms, it would have been churlish not to have accepted invitations to link up there. (Besides, you can’t tell as much about Facebook’s workings, for instance, if you don’t actually have any Facebook friends…)

However, I’ve always borne in mind the wider implications of membership of such platforms (sociological, psychological, and security-specific), and have often written on those topics. (I’ll probably look back at some of those posts and see if any of them are worth flagging here.) But with the excitement over the Cambridge Analytica, it’s self-proclaimed success at social engineering, and its alleged misuse of data harvested from social media, I can’t help but notice that people who’ve previously expressed no interest in privacy and security have started to voice concern. So I’m going to use this page to flag some news and resources of interest. Starting with a minor deluge of advice from various quarters:

Updates 23rd April 2018

Hacker News: Flaw in LinkedIn AutoFill Plugin Lets Third-Party Sites Steal Your Data. Summarizes Jack Cable’s article LinkedIn AutoFill Exposed Visitor Name, Email to Third-Party Websites.

Updates 21st April 2018

(1) Reuters: Exclusive: Facebook to put 1.5 billion users out of reach of new EU privacy law – “The previously unreported move, which Facebook confirmed to Reuters on Tuesday, shows the world’s largest online social network is keen to reduce its exposure to GDPR, which allows European regulators to fine companies for collecting or using personal data without users’ consent.” (HT to Artem Baranov)

(2) Steven Englehardt et al: No boundaries for Facebook data: third-party trackers abuse Facebook Login – “Today we report yet another type of surreptitious data collection by third-party scripts that we discovered: the exfiltration of personal identifiers from websites through “login with Facebook” and other such social login APIs. Specifically, we found two types of vulnerabilities:

  • seven third parties abuse websites’ access to Facebook user data
  • one third party uses its own Facebook “application” to track users around the web.”

Commentary from The Register: Facebook’s login-to-other-sites service lets scum slurp your stuff – “A security researcher has claimed it’s possible to extract user information from Facebook’s Login service, the tool that lets you sign into third-party sites with a Facebook ID.”

(3) Help Net: Researchers develop algorithm to detect fake users on social networks – “Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and University of Washington researchers have developed a new generic method to detect fake accounts on most types of social networks, including Facebook and Twitter.”

Paper is here: Generic anomalous vertices detection utilizing alink prediction algorithm

Commentary from The Register: Gang way! Compsci geeks coming through! AI engine can finger fakes on social networks – “Take note Twitter, Facebook et al, it’s really not that hard to weed out bots”

(4) Graham Cluley: Facebook pushes ahead with controversial facial recognition feature in Europe “Facebook uses facial recognition software to automatically match people in photos your friends upload with the other billions of images on Facebook’s servers in which you might appear.”

(5) Help Net: LocalBlox found leaking info on tens of millions of individuals – “The discovery was made by UpGuard researcher Chris Vickery, who stumbled upon the unsecured Amazon Web Services S3 bucket holding the data, bundled in a single, compressed file. When decompressed, it revealed 48 million records in a format that’s easy for anyone to peruse.”

Here’s the Upguard blog post.

And commentary from Graham Cluley for Hot for security: 48 million people put at risk after firm that scraped info from social networks left it exposed for anyone to download

(6) Sophos: Facebook: 3 reasons we’re tracking non-users – more light cast into the shadows by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s questions to Mark Zuckerberg.

(7) The Guardian: Far More Than 87 Million Facebook Users Had Data Compromised by Cambridge Analytica

(8) Sophos: Google in hot water over privacy of Android apps for kids

(9) Tech Crunch: A flaw-by-flaw guide to Facebook’s new GDPR privacy changes
“Just click accept, ignore those settings”

(10) Brian Krebs: Is Facebook’s Anti-Abuse System Broken?

Updates 17th April 2018

Brian Krebs: Deleted Facebook Cybercrime Groups Had 300,000 Members – “Hours after being alerted by KrebsOnSecurity, Facebook last week deleted almost 120 private discussion groups … who flagrantly promoted a host of illicit activities on the social media network’s platform … The average age of these groups on Facebook’s platform was two years.”

Updates 15th April 2018

The Register: Super Cali’s frickin’ whiz kids no longer oppose us: Even though Facebook thought info law was quite atrocious – “Zuck & Co end fight against California’s privacy legislation” Extra points to El Reg for that title, even if it doesn’t scan very well. 🙂

Sophos: Facebook shines a little light on ‘shadow profiles’ (or what Facebook knows about people who haven’t signed up to Facebook).

Also from Sophos: Interview: Sarah Jamie Lewis, Executive Director of the Open Privacy Research Society. OPRS is a privacy advocacy and research group aiming to “to make it easier for people, especially marginalized groups (including LGBT persons), to protect their privacy and anonymity online…”

Updates 12th April 2018

Updates 11th April 2018

Updates 9th April 2018

Updates 8th April 2018

Updates 5th-7th April 2018

Updates 3rd/4th April 2018

Update 2nd/3rd April 2018

Updates 1st April 2018

Updates 31st March 2018

(HT to Mich Kabay for pointing out the Economist articles – NB there’s a limit on how many you can view without subscribing.)

Updates 29th March 2018

Updates 28th March 2018

Updates 26th March 2018

Updates 23rd March 2018

Updates 22nd March 2018

  • For Tech Beacon, Richi Jennings does a good job (as usual) of finding ‘bloggy bits’ relating to the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica mess: No ‘likes’ for Facebook’s API leak, but it’s not a data breach—and not news. And no, the fact that Facebook collects and shares too much information isn’t exactly news. Nor, come to that, the fact that Facebook has itself engaged in some experimental social engineering though I’m guessing that fewer people are or ever were aware of those particular experiments. I think I’ll probably come back to that…
  • A comment to Richi’s announcement of that Tech Beacon article – ironically, on Facebook – brought my attention to this article by Kalev Leetaru for Forbes:

    The Problem Isn’t Cambridge Analytica: It’s Facebook. The article makes some excellent points. For instance:

    • “In 2014 academic researchers at Cornell and Facebook published research in which they had manipulated the emotions of three quarters of a million users … the research had been fully approved by Facebook and Cornell, with ethical review by Cornell’s IRB.” Yes, that’s one of the experiments I was thinking of.
    • “A central theme of the rhetoric and coverage of Cambridge Analytica is that it somehow violated accepted societal norms over the use of Facebook data … referring to it in the cybersecurity parlance of a data “breach.” In fact, this could not be further from the truth in our modern “surveillance economy.”
  • Taylor Lorenz for The Daily Beast: Mark Zuckerberg Swears He’ll Protect Your Data—Next Time – “The Facebook chief promised users that he would do more to ensure that their online lives weren’t put up for sale. One small problem: that’s kind of Facebook’s business model.”
  • Matthew Yglesias, for Vox (that’s the news site, not the music equipment manufacturer), comments on The case against Facebook – “It’s not just about privacy; its core function makes people lonely and sad.” Well, you could argue with that tagline. FB does have a useful function in terms, for instance, of connecting with friends far away. If you keep the Big Picture in mind, you sometimes forget that there are valid reasons why people are prepared to compromise their data by using Facebook (if they think about it at all). Still, there are plenty of very valid points in the article:
    • “…according to Craig Silverman’s path-breaking analysis for BuzzFeed, the 20 highest-performing fake news stories of the closing days of the 2016 campaign did better on Facebook than the 20 highest-performing real ones.”
    • “By turning news consumption and news discovery into a performative social process, Facebook turns itself into a confirmation bias machine — a machine that can best be fed through deliberate engineering….Meanwhile, Facebook is destroying the business model for outlets that make real news.”
  • Kurt Wismer makes a good point about the get-me-out-of-here trend in The problem with #DeleteFacebook. “…a movement to abandon Facebook is going to open up a lot of opportunities for fraud all at once.” He suggests disabling rather than deleting an account. (Actually, I have a similar strategy regarding LinkedIn: I’m not job-hunting any more, but I don’t want to make misuse of my name too easy.)
  • While Brian X. Chen points out for the New York Times: Want to #DeleteFacebook? You Can Try. A few pertinent points here, too:
    • “Keep in mind that Facebook isn’t the only company capable of collecting your information. One big culprit: Web trackers, like cookies embedded into websites and their ads. They are everywhere, and they follow your activities from site to site.”
    • “…you may be better off tweaking your privacy settings on the site.”
  • Help Net Security: Facebook’s trust crisis: Has it harmed democracy?  – “Facebook is losing the faith of the Americans people, according to the Digital Citizens Alliance.

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  • Sophos: Mozilla stops Facebook advertising, demands privacy changes
  • Mozilla: Mozilla Presses Pause on Facebook Advertising

Updates 21st March 2018

David Harley

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