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Security & privacy

Private messages stolen from 81,000 Facebook accounts are up for sale

If you can recall,  news broke out around a month ago that hackers exploited a flaw in Facebook’s code that then allowed them to steal the access tokens of around 50 million accounts, the largest data heist in the company’s history.

Although Facebook said that the number is actually smaller than initially reported, the data stolen included personal details like telephone numbers, email addresses, work, gender, religious affiliation and even the types of devices used to access the site.

Now, it looks like there’s another group peddling Facebook information online. No, this doesn’t look like it’s related to prior breaches like the Cambridge Analytica fiasco nor the recent data leak.

It’s a brand new scheme that is putting the private information of thousands at risk.

Private Facebook messages for sale

Hackers are reportedly selling private messages stolen from at least 81,000 Facebook user accounts.

First reported by the BBC, a majority of the compromised accounts appear to belong to Facebook users based in Ukraine and Russia, but there are some from UK, U.S., Brazil and other countries too.

Not only that, but the hackers also claimed that they have details from a total of 120 million Facebook accounts and are offering them for sale at 10 cents per account.

Based on the cybersecurity firm Digital Shadows’ examination, the BBC has confirmed that the 81,000 accounts that were posted as a sample indeed contained private messages. Five Russian Facebook users also confirmed that some of their private messages were part of the sample.

Another set of data which included the email addresses and phone numbers of 176,000 accounts was also put up for sale but these may have been merely mined from Facebook users who have set them as public.

Interestingly, one of the sites where the data has been published appears to have been set up in St. Petersburg, which further reinforces its Russian origins.

Not Facebook’s fault?

The BBC report stated that Facebook’s security had not been compromised and the data was probably mined via malicious browser extensions.

These browser extensions or add-ons usually disguise themselves as shopping assistants, bookmarking tools and games and they are offered on Chrome and Firefox.

Although Facebook did not name the malicious extensions, the company said that one particular extension monitored the Facebook users’ activity in the background then sent personal details and private messages to the hackers.

The social media giant also added that it has taken steps to prevent further accounts from being affected

“We have contacted browser-makers to ensure that known malicious extensions are no longer available to download in their stores,” Facebook executive Guy Rosen told the BBC.

“We have also contacted law enforcement and have worked with local authorities to remove the website that displayed information from Facebook accounts,” he added.

Check your browser extensions

As a precaution and to protect yourself from these kinds of hacks, it is recommended that you check your browser extensions and add-ons and remove, deactivate or uninstall the ones that you don’t recognize nor fully trust.

How to remove Chrome extensions

Here’s how you uninstall a Chrome extension:

  1. In your Chrome browser, click the three vertical dots at the top right corner.
  2. Hover over “More Tools” then click Extensions.
  3. You will now be directed to a page with all your installed extensions.
  4. To remove an extension, click on its trash icon (located on its right side).
  5. Click Remove on the popup window to confirm.

How to remove Firefox add-ons

Here are the steps to disable or remove a Firefox extension or add-on:

  1. On your Firefox browser, click the three horizontal lines at the top right corner.
  2. Click on Add-ons.
  3. On the new “about:addons” that opens, click “Extensions” on the left menu bar.
  4. Select the add-on or extension you want to disable.
  5. Click its disable button.
  6. Restart your Firefox browser. App background

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