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Instagram bug 'exposed' hipsters' private photos to strangers

Privacy flap at Facebook-acquired firm shocker

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A just-patched vulnerability in Instagram potentially exposed hipsters' private photos and more to strangers.

A bug in the popular photo touch-up utility, acquired by Facebook in April for $1bn, allowed malicious users to add themselves as "friends" to individual accounts without permission and view snaps marked as private.

In a security advisory, Instagram said the "Following Bug" has been fixed.

It denied that private photos were even exposed, an assurance that conflicts with claims in a blog post by Sebastián Guerrero, the Spanish security researcher who discovered the flaw in the first place. An English language security advisory related to Guerrero's research can be found here.

Guerrero warned that photos and private information were exposed by the bug, which stems from the ability to guess and forge approved requests to follow, or befriend a user, using a brute-force attack. Both Android and iPhone versions of Instagram were affected by the vulnerability.

The security researcher illustrated the vulnerability by adding himself to the select group of people followed by Facebook head honcho Mark Zuckerberg. Guerrero then sent the social networking mogul a message congratulating him on buying Instagram and asking for some sort of reward under Facebook's bug bounty programme.

Commentary on how the vulnerability worked and what it might mean for Facebook can be found in a blog post by Stephen Cobb of web security firm Eset here. Facebook is subject to settlement with US consumer watchdog the FTC, which imposed audits for the next 20 years as a result of the social networking's dodgy record on protecting punters' privacy.

The web goliath got into trouble for "deceiving consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public". Although accidental the privacy bug at Instagram might at least merit a few awkward question towards Facebook from FTC enforcers, Eset notes. ®

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