Facebook says issues fixed after finding user passwords in readable format

Hundreds of millions of passwords were stored in plain text on Facebook.                  Angela Lang  CNET

The shocking vulnerability was first revealed by security researcher Brian Krebs, who reports that Facebook left the passwords of 200 million to 600 million users stored in plain text.

Facebook didn't confirm those kinds of numbers in its own blog post, but estimated that it would "notify hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users, tens of millions of other Facebook users, and tens of thousands of Instagram users" that their passwords had been exposed to Facebook employees.

While the information could have proven disastrous if it had fallen into the wrong hands, Facebook says the login credentials were "never visible to anyone outside of Facebook".

He added that Facebook typically "masks people's passwords when they create an account so that no one at the company can see them".

The company says the passwords were stored on internal company servers, no outsiders could access them.

"We have fixed these issues and as a precaution we will be notifying everyone whose passwords we have found were stored in this way", Canahuati said.

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In Europe, Facebook is headquartered in Ireland, where it is regulated by the Irish Data Protection Commission.

The blunder was uncovered during a routine security review early this year, according to Canahuati. "In this situation what we've found is these passwords were inadvertently logged but that there was no actual risk that's come from this".

"This caught our attention because our login systems are created to mask passwords using techniques that make them unreadable", said Pedro Canahuati, Vice President of Engineering, Security and Privacy. It will also impact hundreds of millions of Facebook lite users, a version of the social platform used in countries that don't have as strong of wireless networks.

Both Github and Twitter were forced to admit similar stumbles in recent months, but in both of those cases the plain text user passwords were available to a relatively small number of people within those organizations, and for far shorter periods of time. "We want to make sure we're reserving those steps and only force a password change in cases where there have definitely been signs of abuse".

Update, 11:43 a.m.: Facebook has posted a statement about this incident here.

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