Explained | How Facebook’s recent data breach affect its users

CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s private credentials are part of the larger leaked data set from 2019

Updated - August 19, 2022 10:03 am IST

Published - April 15, 2021 01:14 pm IST

Facebook logo is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration photo taken March 16, 2021.

Facebook logo is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration photo taken March 16, 2021.

(Subscribe to our Today's Cache newsletter for a quick snapshot of top 5 tech stories. Click here to subscribe for free.)

Facebook has suffered yet another data breach , only this time, private information from 533 million accounts have been leaked online. Even the company’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s private credentials are part of the larger leaked data set from 2019.

Also read:Ireland launches inquiry into Facebook after reports of data leak

Here is a look at the nature of this data leak, ones similar to it, and their impact on netizens:

What kind of data was leaked and how was it done?

Private information of users was primarily obtained by exploiting Facebook’s contact importer feature that allows users to find friends on social media using their phone’s contact list.

Malicious actors exploited a weakness in the feature to gain access to user ID, address, phone number, email address, names of workplaces, date of birth, date of account creation, and other personal identifiable information. They then leaked this data in the dark web. Information on users’ finance and password were not divulged.


Facebook claims hackers obtained user data through data scraping — a process used by people to import data from a website onto a local file that is saved in a computer. The social networking giant also noted in a blog post that “the specific issue that allowed them [hackers] to scrape this data in 2019 no longer exists.”

“A lot of companies like Facebook, Google and others provide their APIs to developers for several reasons. Hacker groups essentially use them to scrape data from these sites,” said Rajshekhar Rajaharia, a Rajasthan-based entrepreneur and cybersecurity researcher, in an email to The Hindu .

“They can procure the name and email of a particular user from one website through their API, A second website’s API might provide them with their phone number and address, a third might open the doors to more sensitive information on the same user. Hackers are essentially combining these details and creating a complete data set which is then being sold online.”

Uniqueness of this leak, and similarity with others

The latest instance stands out for the sheer number of accounts compromised. According to a report published by Business Insider , personal information of over half a billion Facebook users in 106 countries was leaked online. This includes over 32 million records on users in the U.S., 11.5 million in the U.K., and 6 million in India.

Earlier, data of 500 million LinkedIn users were being sold online by an unknown hacker who had dumped two million users’ data as sample. Separately, online stock trading company Upstox’s data was stolen due to compromised Amazon Web Service (AWS) keys.

This hack includes users’ Aadhaar and PAN credentials, passport soft copy, bank account numbers, and photos of signatures, Rajaharia noted.

“In the case of LinkedIn, it was asserted that data was scraped, in other words, someone violated the terms of service to cull out data from the public profile, combined with data from other sites,” Raj Samani, Chief Scientist at cybersecurity firm McAfee told The Hindu .

The information leaked is in many ways similar to Facebook’s leak, but it contains other professional information that might add another layer of sensitivity.

Where is this data now, and for what can it be used?

The stolen information can be used to send spam emails, make calls, mount phishing campaigns and target advertising. It can be used to plot and execute various nefarious online fraud schemes. Hackers can impersonate users and transfer cash on their behalf, without their knowledge.

The database of private information is available on dark web for anyone to sift through. CTO of cyber intelligence firm Hudson Rock in early January confirmed that this data was now being sold on various groups on the cloud-based messaging app Telegram. Recently the data set seems to be popping up on various hacker forums all across the internet.

How can one check whether their data has been compromised?

Internet users seeking to know whether their data has been leaked or compromised, can visit HaveiBeenPawned.com . All they have to do is to key in their email id and check.


Also, people can use Google Passwords to analyse login patterns to know whether their account was breached.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.