Facebook investigating data breach where names, phone numbers of over 267 million users was reportedly exposed

The database was apparently made available for download last week on an online hacker forum that apparently belonged to a crime group.

Facebook on Thursday said it is investigating a report that a database containing names and phone numbers of more than 267 million users was exposed online.

The database was made available for download last week on an online hacker forum that apparently belonged to a crime group, according to a blog post on the website Comparitech.

"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," a Facebook spokesperson told AFP. Notably, it was found that most of the affected users were from the United States.

Comparitech said that security researcher Bob Diachenko spotted the database, which was openly accessible and contained Facebook users' names, user IDs, and phone numbers.

"The information contained in the database could be used to conduct large-scale SMS spam and phishing campaigns, among other threats to end-users," the report added.

The discovery was reported and the database was no longer available by Thursday, according to Comparitech.

Image: Reuters

Image: Reuters

As of now, it is not exactly clear how the hackers leaked into the data, however, the report suggests that there is a possibility that "data was stolen from Facebook’s developer API before the company restricted access to phone numbers in 2018."

Facebook’s API is used by app developers to add social context to their applications by accessing users’ profiles, friends list, groups, photos, and event data. Phone numbers were available to third-party developers prior to 2018.

Revelation of the exposed data comes as the social network strives to rebuild trust and alleviate concerns over protection of people's information.

US regulators earlier this month said that British consultancy Cambridge Analytica – at the center of a massive scandal involving Facebook data hijacking – deceived the social network's users about how it collected and handled their personal information.

(Also read: Facebook bug that leaked 6.8 million user's data being probed by Irish regulators)

The Federal Trade Commission said its investigation launched in March 2018 concluded that the now-defunct political consulting firm "engaged in deceptive practices to harvest personal information from tens of millions of Facebook users for voter profiling and targeting."

The FTC said the British firm, which worked on Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, made "false and misleading" claims when it offered Facebook users a "personality quiz" – stating it would not download names or any personally identifiable information.

The case created a firestorm over data protection when it was disclosed that Cambridge Analytica was able to create psychological profiles using data from millions of Facebook users.

Facebook's own investigation found that some data from 87 million users in the United States and elsewhere had been compromised by the firm, and claimed the practices violated the social network's terms of service.

Facebook paid a record $5 billion penalty early this year in a settlement with the regulator over mishandling users' private data.

With inputs from Agence France-Press 

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.