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Names and emails of Facebook users available online for just $5 per million

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October 31, 2012

There are reasons why some keep saying that Facebook isn't a safe website, and this piece of news will empower that statement-- names and email addresses of Facebook users are now available online for just $5 per million.

The discovery of the lists of names was uncovered by Bogomil Shopov, an internet marketer and blogger from the Czech Republic. Shopov said he approached Facebook about the issue. He said the company asked him to forward and then delete the data, which came in the form on a compressed spreadsheet.

Facebook representatives also needed to know where he'd bought the lists and what payment systems were used, he said, adding that he had been happy to answer.

But Shopov said he objected to requests he says were made by the Facebook representatives to keep his conversations with them about the matter a secret.

He said Facebook told him it was running an internal legal investigation but dragged its feet when it came to promising to advise users about how to avoid their data ending up in the hands of spammers and unscrupulous data brokers.

"I asked if it was possible to tell what the problem was, after they finished the investigation, so that the users could protect themselves, but instead they emphasized that it would be an internal investigation and they would not share any information with third parties," Shopov said.

He suspects the Facebook data, which contained Facebook profile URLs as well as email addresses and names on users of the social network, came from a third-party developer.

Shopov said ads advertising the sale of the data were pulled soon after he tipped Facebook off about the issue. The blogger was then able to verify that at least some of the email addresses contained in the list were accurate.

Although internet services marketing site has removed the offending ad, it can still be viewed via Google's cache, as you can see below.

Shopov added that other sites are offering Facebook data for sale as well. "I know two so far and it seems the part of the data is available in a post in Facebook," he said.

In a canned statement, Facebook said early indications were that the data was scraped from its site before being bundled with other information and illegally sold online.

"Facebook is vigilant about protecting our users from those who would try to expose any form of user information. In this case, it appears someone has attempted to scrape information from our site and combine the data with information that is publicly available elsewhere on the internet," said Facebook.

"We have dedicated security personnel that look into, and take aggressive action on reports just like these. In addition to this, we built tools to block scraping. We also have a dedicated enforcement team that seeks to identify those responsible for breaking our terms and works with our legal team to ensure that the appropriate consequences follow," read the Facebook statement.

Shopov said he didn't believe the data was scraped from Facebook. Whoever is behind the scam can expect to face sanctions from Facebook, up to and including the possibility of criminal prosecution.

In other Facebook-related security news, Imperva warned that it had uncovered a bustling trade in social network fraud on an online black market it monitors. The 250,000-member hacker forum plays host to a thriving black market for buying and selling illegitimate social network "Likes", followers, and endorsements, with particular attention given to the origin of these Likes and followers.

"Likes and followers can be used to gain rank, win competitions, and many other causes that can often be translated to monetary profit," Imperva explains. "Many forum discussions contain requests to buy Facebook friends and Likes, Twitter followers and other types of social currency. There are, of course, many who are willing to provide the service, for variable prices."

In other internet security news

According to a new study recently released, on average, hackers exploit security vulnerabilities in software for about ten to eleven months before the full details of the security issues surface to the public.

Researchers from Symantec say that these zero-day attacks, so called because they are launched well before security firms and industry vendors are even aware of the vulnerabilities per se, are more prevalent and more potent than previously believed.

Overall, zero-day exploits are often closely guarded secrets and the simple reason is that they can be very valuable to potential hackers. However, once the details of the exploited security flaws emerge in public, application developers and system admins alike can rapidly get to work to mitigate or halt the attacks dead in their tracks.

But in today's imperfect cyber world, this comes at a huge price-- it also tips off the world that these security vulnerabilities also exist in systems.

Case in point-- Leyla Bilge and Tudor Dumitras, both of Symantec Research Labs, identified no less than eighteen zero-day attacks between January 2008 and December 2011, and eleven of them were previously undetected.

"A typical zero-day attack lasts an average of about 312 days and, after vulnerabilities are disclosed publicly, the volume of attacks exploiting them increases by up to five orders of magnitude," the security researchers note.

The study is based on data from customers who had opted into Symantec's anti-virus telemetry service.

A paper on the research-- "Before We Knew It: An Empirical Study of Zero-Day Attacks In The Real World" was presented at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Raleigh, North Carolina last week.

In other internet security news

U.S. federal police and the Department of Justice (DoJ) are increasingly gaining real-time access to Americans' social network accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+, but prior to obtaining search warrants, newly released documents reveal.

And the numbers are really dramatic-- live interception requests made by the U.S. Department of Justice to social-networking sites and email providers jumped over 80 percent from 2010 to 2011 alone, and the trend is rapidly increasing.

Documents the ACLU released yesterday reveal that U.S. federal police are using a 1986 law originally intended to tell police what phone numbers were dialed for far more invasive surveillance-- monitoring of whom specific social-network users communicate with, what IP addresses they're connecting from, and perhaps even likes and +1s.

The DoJ conducted 1,662 live intercepts on social networks and email providers last year, up from only 922 a year earlier, the reports demonstrate.

The ACLU hopes that the disclosure of the documents it sued to obtain under the Freedom of Information Act will persuade Congress to tighten up the requirements for police to intercept "noncontent" data -- a broad category that excludes e-mail messages and direct messages.

The current legal standard "allows the government to use these powerful surveillance tools with very little oversight in place to safeguard Americans' privacy," says Catherine Crump, an ACLU staff attorney.

And it could work. On September 25, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., introduced a new bill that would require police to get warrants to access Americans' email and track their mobile phones. But last week, senators delayed a vote on a similar bill after law enforcement groups vehemently objected to it.

The U.S. DoJ didn't immediately respond to questions about social-network surveillance. We'll update this story if we receive a response.

It still isn't clear on just how many of those 1,662 real-time intercepts last year -- which do require a judge's approval -- targeted social networks, and how many were aimed at email providers themselves.

Traditional phone intercepts remain far more frequent-- for example, the U.S. Marshals Service says that 409 of its noncontent intercepts were for internet service providers, while 14,568 were for telephone call data.

The largest number of them fell into the fugitive-finding category, including parole or probation violations. To perform noncontent intercepts on social networks, police must generally seek court authorization for a pen register or trap and trace order, both of which are terms borrowed from decades-old surveillance law.

They were originally designed to allow law enforcement to easily collect the phone numbers associated with incoming and outgoing calls, and were extended to the Internet by the Patriot Act eleven years ago.

However, the Patriot Act didn't make it any more difficult for law enforcement to ask for such an order. Police must merely claim their request is "relevant" to an ongoing investigation. A search warrant, by contrast, requires probable cause, and a live wiretap order is even more privacy-protective.

What's also unclear is what kind of real-time data police are seeking from social networks through these orders. It's clear that they can obtain the current IP address of a Facebook user, for instance, and the port number, which is increasingly important.

But it's less clear whether a "+1" or information about a user's circle of friends would be permitted. And the wording of that section of the Patriot Act is more broad than narrow. It says that police can demand all "routing" or "addressing" information that's transmitted through an Internet service or that's "likely to identify the source of a wire or electronic communication."

Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project says "This is a very invasive surveillance technology. We don't even have a feel for how broadly it's currently being used, and that's only part of the issue."

In other internet security news

Virus and malware creators say they are now experimenting with Google's Go as a potential programming language for creating malware and viruses.

The Encriyoko Trojan uses components written in Go, a compiled language developed by Google. It first emerged from the company more than three years ago. Once installed on a Microsoft Windows PC, the Trojan attempts to use the 'Blowfish' algorithm to encrypt all files matching various criteria including particular document types and a range of file sizes.

The exact key used to encrypt the data is either pulled from a particular file on the D: drive or is randomly generated. This renders the information useless to its owner if the cipher key cannot be recovered.

"Restoration of the encrypted files will be difficult, if not impossible," Symantec warns about the Trojan. The malware is circulating in the wild, and disguises itself as a tool to root Samsung Galaxy smartphones - a process that would otherwise allow customized operating systems to be installed on the phones.

It's possible that the unknown virus writers are simply using a programming language they've taken a liking to. "Go could also be more resilient to reversing attempts by researchers as it isn't really mainstream for now. The latter may be more a perception by the coders than in reality."

It goes without saying that Google needs to look into this very rapidly in order to prevent the potential creation of viruses and other malware that could severy impede systems and then propagate itself to multiple networks.

In other internet security news

The U.K.'s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the actual nerve center for eavesdropping police in England, has launched a new initiative to better persuade tech-savvy British citizens to help defend their own country against potential hackers and cyber attackers.

Government officials at the GCHQ are going after cyber crooks aged 16 and over who are not already working in computer security and could possibly guard the country's networks against the hacking ambitions of hostile states, cyber criminals and so-called script kiddies.

But the GCHQ must first triumph in a 'Balancing the Defense' game. The participants will analyse a fake government network for possible paths of intrusion, help determine the potential threats they face and suggest new ways to defend them, all while taking into account the increasingly budget-concious that is the U.K.

The GCHQ will have just one week, starting on October 1st to be briefed on the scenario and submit its report. "We hope that this competition will uncover those who have the vital mix of technical ability and business awareness to make tough decisions in the best interest of an organization," said Joen Karl, the architect of the competition.

"At the GCHQ, we are really committed in finding and developing the new cyber security skills in the U.K. and these are the skills sets that employers including ourselves are most interested in," he added in a statement.

This latest test is part of the Cyber Security Challenge program, which was started in 2010. Winners of Balancing the Defense program will be invited onto the next stage of the program, a face-to-face competition that will further whittle down the candidates.

Another virtual competition will follow, after which the remaining contenders will get a real-life challenge with an Aston Martin Racing team and the IT infrastructure the crew relies on.

The final few will reach a Masterclass and Awards weekend in March, where a "range of career enhancing prizes" will be on offer. The GCHQ people didn't specifically say that any employment post was waiting for anyone, mentioning bursaries, university courses and internships instead.

The eavesdropping collective may be a bit embarrassed to admit how much one of their crack specialists would earn, since another of its competitions, Can You Crack It?, yielded a job with a starting salary of just £ 25,000.

Then again, a number of GCHQ's code-cracking conundrums have had hidden solutions within the main puzzle for top-notch spy wannabes to crack and stand out from the humdrum candidates.

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Source: Bogomil Shopov.

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