Following Facebook’s recent announcement that some of its users’ passwords were being stored in a readable format within their internal data storage systems; Sophos, a security software and hardware company, is offering advice on measures users of the social media network should take.
Facebook confirmed the issue was ultimately handled, with Pedro Canahuati, VP Engineering, Security and Privacy, stating; via a blog post that: “this caught our attention because our login systems are designed to mask passwords using techniques that make them unreadable. We have fixed these issues and as a precaution we will be notifying everyone whose passwords we have found were stored in this way,”
Sophos, via some of its senior executive team, is offering advice to uneasy Facebook users on what to do following this new debacle.
“Despite the recent public struggles Facebook has had with respect to privacy and security, this incident is a little different. Authentication data is something that Facebook treats very seriously and has put in place many mechanisms, both externally and internally, to ensure that user credentials are safeguarded. While the details of the incident are still emerging, this is likely an accidental programming error that led to the logging of plain text credentials,” said John Shier, senior security advisor at Sophos.
“That said, this should never have happened and Facebook needs to ensure that no user credentials or data were compromised as a result of this error. This is also another reminder for people who are still reusing passwords or using weak passwords to change their Facebook password to something strong and unique and to turn on 2-factor authentication,” added Shier.
We delve deeper into the issues with a question & answer commentary from Paul Ducklin, senior technologist, Sophos.
Q1. Should I change my Facebook password?
Sophos: Why not? It’s perfectly possible that no passwords at all fell into the hands of any crooks as a result of this. But if any passwords did get into the wrong hands (and you can bet your boots that the crooks are trawling through any old data they might have right now, to see if there is anything they missed before), then you can expect them to be abused. Hashed passwords still need to be cracked before they can be used; plaintext passwords are the real deal without any further hacking or cracking needed.
So our advice is: change your password now.
Q2. Should I turn on two-factor authentication?
Sophos: Yes, turn on two-factor authentication (2FA) now. We’ve been urging you to do use two-factor authentication everywhere you can anyway – it means that a password alone isn’t enough for crooks to raid your account.
If you are reluctant to give Facebook your phone number, use app-based authentication, where your mobile phone generates a one-time code each time you log in.
Q3. Should I close my Facebook account?
Sophos: We can’t answer that for you. Given that the wrongly-stored passwords weren’t easily accessible in one database, or deliberately stored for routine use during logins, we don’t think this breach alone is enough reason to terminate your account. On the other hand, it’s a pretty poor look for Facebook, and it might be enough, amongst all the other privacy concerns that have dogged Facebook in recent years, to convince you to take that final step. In short, you have to decide for yourself. (If it helps you decide, we’re not closing our accounts.)