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Dec 20, 2019

267 million - mostly American - Facebook users' IDs, names and phone numbers are exposed online and shared on the dark web

Cybersecurity firm found an unsecure database of Facebook user data online
Approximately 267,140,436 records were exposed and shared on the dark web
The database included IDs, phone numbers and full names of mainly US users
The database has since been shut down, but was live on the web for two weeks

By Stacy Liberatore For
Published: 21:00 GMT, 19 December 2019 | Updated: 22:51 GMT, 19 December 2019

Personal information belonging to hundreds of millions of Facebook users has been exposed in an unsecured database on the dark web, it has emerged.

The Facebook IDs, phone numbers and full names of 267 million users, most residing in the US, were discovered in the database accessible to anyone without a password by cybersecurity researcher Bob Diachenko and tech firm Comparitech, according to a report published Thursday.

The report warned that people identified in the database could be targeted by spam messages or phishing schemes.

Although it is not yet clear how the sensitive information was exposed, experts speculate the database was compiled through an illegal process called 'scraping' – where automated bots copy public information from Facebook profiles.

Access to the database has since been removed, however, the records were available to anyone online for two weeks before the leak was discovered, and had been posted as a downloadable link.

The security breach follows a massive leak in September in which more than 400 million user phone numbers were exposed -and then there was the major scandal in 2018.

It was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of peoples' Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political advertising purposes.

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The records of hundreds of millions Facebook users was discovered in a online forum on the dark web. The unsecure database contained the IDs, phone numbers and full names of 267 million users, most of which reside in the US

A Facebook spokesperson told in an email: 'We are looking into this issue, but believe this is likely information obtained before changes we made in the past few years to better protect people's information.'

The leak was uncovered by the cybersecurity firm Comparitech in partnership with security researcher Bob Diachenko.

Paul Bischoff with Comparitech said: 'Comparitech partnered with security researcher Bob Diachenko to uncover the Elasticsearch cluster.

'Diachenko believes the trove of data is most likely the result of an illegal scraping operation or Facebook API abuse by criminals in Vietnam, according to the evidence.'

Shortly after the information was spotted, Diachenko reached out to the proper authorities to have access to the database removed.

However, it appears the data was exposed for at least two weeks before being taken down.

According to a timeline put together by Comparitech, the database was first indexed on December 4 and wasn't closed until December 19.

Approximately 267,140,436 records were exposed, most of which were of users living in the US – and Diachenko said all of the data appeared to be valid.

The experts are not sure how the information landed in the hands of cyberthieves, but they do have their suspicions.

The first possibility is that the hackers stole the data from Facebook's developer API prior to Facebook restricting access to phone numbers last year.

Although it is not yet clear how the sensitive information was exposed, experts speculate the database was compiled through an illegal process called 'scraping' – automated bots copied public information from Facebook profiles

Diachenko told Comparitech: 'Facebook's API could also have a security hole that would allow criminals to access user IDs and phone numbers even after access was restricted.'

Another possibility is that the cyber criminals used an illegal process called 'scraping'.

This involves bots combing through numerous web pages and copying data as they go along.

'A database this big is likely to be used for phishing and spam, particularly via SMS. Facebook users should be on the lookout for suspicious text messages,' Bischoff wrote.

'Even if the sender knows your name or some basic information about you, be skeptical of any unsolicited messages.'

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica came under fire in 2018 for exchanging the information of 87 million users – only 270,000 gave permission for their data to be shared.

The information was then used by Cambridge Analytica for political advertising purposes, as it helped them design software that could predict and influence voters' choices at the ballot box.

However, the university center did sue Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for defamation after claiming Facebook used them as a 'scapegoat' when the event surfaced.

Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan was behind an app that helped to harvest data from the Facebook users.

He is taking social media founder Zuckerberg to court after the company said that he had lied about how the data was going to be used.

Zuckerberg and other executives have said Kogan told them the data was for academic purposes not political campaigns.

However, just four months ago, another massive leak occurred.

Phone numbers linked to more than 400 million Facebook accounts were posted online in September.

According to TechCrunch, 133 million US accounts, more than 50 million in Vietnam, and 18 million in Britain were among 419 million records left in an open online server that was not secured with a password.

This includes, according to the person who unearthed the database, profiles and phone numbers of some celebrities.

Facebook did confirm the report, but said the total number was likely to be around half because of duplicate entries.

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