Friday, March 5

Facebook Data Breach Impacting 87 Million Users

Today, millions of people use social media to connect with friends, share thoughts and actions, and post pictures and videos. While people generally think of social media platforms as safe areas to do these things, that may not be the case. Facebook recently suffered a significant breach that affected possibly more than 87 million users.

Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy firm, gained access to a plethora of information from Facebook users without permission. The personal information collected by the firm has been identified and Facebook is working to contact those affected by the breach.

According to Facebook, the company does not know how Cambridge Analytica used the data that was retrieved. Because the firm is not affiliated with Facebook, they supposedly made independent decisions that were “not authorized and breached Facebook policies.” While FBI data shows more than 4,000 ransomware attacks happened each day between January and June back in 2016, these attacks are becoming more frequent and more severe.

Facebook said while the location of users affected by this data breach has been identified, the location “was not an indication of voter registration, nationality, or citizenship and may not, in some cases, indicate actual place of residence.”

Of the 87 million users whose data was retrieved, 562,455 were in India. The Indian government has been informed by Facebook regarding the details of the breach. They were told the steps Facebook was taking to protect their citizens’ data and ensure safety. According to a Facebook spokesperson, the potential 562,455 Indian users affected by the breach may have begun after Facebook users in India downloaded a quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife” between 2013 and 2015. Friends and family of those who downloaded the app seem to have been affected as well.

Users of this app were paid to take a personality test and consent to have their personal data collected. The app was developed by Cambridge University, in collaborated with Cambridge Analytica. According to Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, estimated that about 50 million people were hacked through this app.

Wylie told the Observer, “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”

The majority of those affected by the data hack are in the U.S. — with about 70 million users being impacted. In the UK, more than one million people may be affected and 310,000 users in Australia as well.

Facebook will be sending a notice to all users, affected by the breach or not, called “Protecting Your Information.” This notification will allow users to see what apps hold their information in order to shut off apps individually or remove third-party access capabilities.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, admitted to making a “huge mistake” in handling the events that lead up to this massive data breach. Large companies like Facebook generally have IT departments responsible for network administration and system analyses to catch breaches like this. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to do.

Facebook is reaching out to the 87 million users affected by the breach and is taking actions to prevent further interference on its platform. Zuckerberg is testifying before Congress regarding Facebook’s actions that led to this data being retrieved.

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