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Facebook Now Notifies You If You’re Being Spied on by Government Hackers

New warnings from the social network are designed to help users protect their privacy from state-sponsored cyber-spies.

image via (cc) flickr user westm

There are plenty of things we all worry about when it comes to social media: getting into a political debate after your uncle posts something about the melting temperature of steel beams, accidentally hitting “favorite” on a tweet from that ex you can’t bring yourself to unfollow, the looming threat of old college photos making their way online. Odds are, however, that for all the things we worry about, “state-sponsored cyber spying” isn’t one of them.


Facebook, however, feels differently.

In a post written by Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, the social networking giant announced last week that they would begin notifying users in instances when the company suspects an account may be compromised as a result of state-sponsored hackers. The notification will not only alert a user to the problem, but also prompt them to enable a two-step authentication process which will only allow access to the account in question after the user enters a numeric passcode sent to their phone.

image via facebook

TechCrunch points out that Facebook’s use of the term “state-sponsored actors” may, in and of itself, be causing more confusion than intended. Odds are your account, full of vacation photos and thoughts on the latest Star Wars trailer, is not being directly targeted by high-level national security apparatuses. Rather, Facebook is likely referring to instances of hacks that stem from a user having picked up a separate virus or piece of malware elsewhere, and not through Facebook’s servers. In the past, hacks of these sorts have been linked to larger attempts to access newsrooms and other journalistic organizations by way of an employee’s personal information, like that which they might keep on Facebook. Similarly, hacked access to a government employee’s Facebook account could be used in an effort to exploit that person’s workplace.

As Stamos writes in his announcement:

It's important to understand that this warning is not related to any compromise of Facebook's platform or systems, and that having an account compromised in this manner may indicate that your computer or mobile device has been infected with malware. Ideally, people who see this message should take care to rebuild or replace these systems if possible.

While Facebook, citing the need to “protect the integrity of our methods and processes,” doesn’t expand upon how they identify these hacks from others, they do explain that “these types of attacks tend to be more advanced and dangerous than others,” and that users who receive the new notifications should use the opportunity to secure not only their Facebook account, but their other online information as well.

Facebook’s new notifications come several years after a similar policy was put in place by Google.

[via The Guardian]

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