Feeds

How to sniff out private information on Facebook

Social network makes it a snap

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

Facebook users who like to control who gets to see your account details, take note: political views, religious back ground and other sensitive details may be wide open to prying eyes even though you've configured your profile so its viewable only to designated friends.

That's because the user setting that allows only designated friends to view a user's profile has no effect on whether the contents of that profile can be searched by the Facebook community at large. Users who want to block their profiles from being searched must go through an additional step.

It's hard to imagine why someone would want to block strangers from reading their profile and at the same time opt to have their profile contents searchable by any Facebook user. And it's even harder to understand why Facebook search by default indexes profile contents, rather than the other way around.

But that's the way Facebook has been doing things since at least September, according to Chris Soghoian, a graduate student at Indiana University who blogs about the quirk here.

"Users cannot be expected to know that the contents of their private profiles can be mined via searches, and thus, very few do set the search permissions associated with their profile," Soghoian writes.

Soghoian's observation is one more example how digital information presumed innocuous can come back to bite us in the ass. As employers, co-workers and others get wise to the trove of personal details volunteered on MySpace, LiveJournal and elsewhere, it pays to think before posting. Or in the case of Facebook, to pay close attention to privacy settings.

To demonstrate, Soghoian created an account for an individual named "Chris Privacy Soghoian" whose politics are socially conservative, lists his religious background as Catholic and claims to live in London. While the account is set so only friends can view the profile, anyone who puts "Chris Privacy Soghoian" and "Christian - Catholic" into the advanced search engine (and evidently, who belongs to one of Soghoian's networks) will get a result showing a match.

For more than 24 hours Facebook representatives maintained radio silence in response to a call and email from us asking about the design of their privacy settings. That left us wondering aloud in a previous version of this story if we'd have been better off searching through their profiles.

On late Wednesday, a spokeswoman finally emailed to say the company has updated its advanced search function so that profile information designated private will no longer be included in search results. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
NUDE SNAPS AGENCY: NSA bods love 'showing off your saucy selfies'
Swapping other people's sexts is a fringe benefit, says Snowden
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
British data cops: We need greater powers and more money
You want data butt kicking, we need bigger boots - ICO
Crooks fling banking Trojan at Japanese smut site fans
Wait - they're doing online banking with an unpatched Windows PC?
NIST told to grow a pair and kick NSA to the curb
Lrn2crypto, oversight panel tells US govt's algorithm bods
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.