A security hole on Facebook has been exposing private pictures of countless users, including the Social Network's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
A photo pilfering exploit posted to a bodybuilding.com forum on Monday included step-by-step instructions for viewing pictures designated as private by the Facebook users who posted them. It worked by manipulating a feature that allows people to report inappropriate profile pictures to Facebook officials. The routine allowed snitches to report additional pictures, even when designations made the images off-limits to all but a select set of friends.
Not all the participants in the forum reported success. It would appear that those located in the US got better results than others. Several hours after the disclosure vulnerability was reported, 13 images purportedly lifted from Zuckerberg's account were posted below a headline that read: “It's time to fix those security flaws Facebook...”
They show Zuck wining and dining with friends, chatting with President Barack Obama, and holding what appears to be a freshly slaughtered chicken, in keeping with a recent predilection to eat only meat he has killed himself.
In a statement, Facebook officials said:
Earlier today, we discovered a bug in one of our reporting flows that allows people to report multiple instances of inappropriate content simultaneously. The bug allowed anyone to view a limited number of another user's most recently uploaded photos irrespective of the privacy settings for these photos. This was the result of one of our recent code pushes and was live for a limited period of time. Upon discovering the bug, we immediately disabled the system, and will only return functionality once we can confirm the bug has been fixed.
The privacy of our user's data is a top priority for us, and we invest significant resources in protecting our site and the people who use it. We hire the most qualified and highly-skilled engineers and security professionals at Facebook, and with the recent launch of our Security Bug Bounty Program (http://www.facebook.com/whitehat/ ), we continue to work with the industry to identify and resolve legitimate threats to help us keep the site safe and secure for everyone.
It's not the first time someone has figured out how to bypass Facebook permissions designed to give users tight control over who gets to see images and announcements posted to their pages. In 2008, a Canadian computer technician was able to view private photos of Paris Hilton, Zuckerberg, and others by guessing the ID of the photo. Last year, the social network was caught exposing the name and photo of all 500 million of its users when their email addresses were typed in to the log-in page.
Monday's discovery of yet another hole in Facebook's safety net is the latest reminder that the only way to be sure something doesn't get published to world+dog is to keep it off the internet in the first place. Permission systems such as those on Facebook and other sites may make users feel better, but they have little effect on hackers with enough determination or time on their hands. ®
This post was updated to include comment from Facebook.