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A television photographer shoots the sign outside of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. VOA

In yet another shocking revelation, US-based cyber security firm UpGuard has found that Facebook app developers left millions of user records, including comments, likes and reactions, exposed on the Amazon Cloud servers.

The third-party Facebook app developers exposed data in the public domain in two large datasets that contained 540 million users’ records.


“One, originating from the Mexico-based media company Cultura Colectiva, weighs in at 146 gigabytes and contains over 540 million records detailing comments, likes, reactions, account names, FB IDs and more,” said UpGuard in a blog post on Wednesday.

“A separate backup from a Facebook-integrated app titled ‘At the Pool’ was also found exposed to the public internet via an Amazon S3 bucket,” said the researchers.

The “At the Pool” discovery is not as large as the Cultura Colectiva dataset, but it contains plaintext (unprotected) passwords for 22,000 users.

“As Facebook faces scrutiny over its data stewardship practices, they have made efforts to reduce third-party access.

“But as these exposures show, the data genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Data about Facebook users has been spread far beyond the bounds of what Facebook can control today,” said UpGuard.


This photo shows a Facebook app icon on a smartphone in New York. VOA

Combine that plenitude of personal data with storage technologies that are often misconfigured for public access and the result is a long tail of data about Facebook users that continues to leak.

A Facebook spokesperson told The Verge that the company’s policies prohibit storing Facebook information in a public database.

“Once alerted to the issue, we worked with Amazon to take down the databases. We are committed to working with the developers on our platform to protect people’s data,” the spokesperson added.

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The political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica also harvested data of 87 million users via a quiz app, leaving Facebook under heavy criticism on how it share user data with third parties.

“In each case, the Facebook platform facilitated the collection of data about individuals and its transfer to third parties, who became responsible for its security,” said UpGuard.

“The surface area for protecting the data of Facebook users is thus vast and heterogenous, and the responsibility for securing it lies with millions of app developers who have built on its platform,” it added. (IANS)


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Milky Way galaxy as seen from Chitkul Valley

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has for the first time spotted signs of a planet transiting a star outside of the Milky Way galaxy, opening up a new avenue to search for exoplanets at greater distances than ever before.

The possible exoplanet -- or planets outside of our Solar System -- candidate is located in the spiral galaxy Messier 51 (M51), also called the Whirlpool Galaxy because of its distinctive profile, NASA said in a statement.

Astronomers have, so far, found all other known exoplanets and exoplanet candidates in the Milky Way galaxy, almost all of them less than about 3,000 light-years from Earth.

An exoplanet in M51 would be about 28 million light-years away, meaning it would be thousands of times farther away than those in the Milky Way, NASA said.

"We are trying to open up a whole new arena for finding other worlds by searching for planet candidates at X-ray wavelengths, a strategy that makes it possible to discover them in other galaxies," said Rosanne Di Stefano of the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and Smithsonian (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the study.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The exoplanet candidate was spotted in a binary system called M51-ULS-1, located in M51. This binary system contains a black hole or neutron star orbiting a companion star with a mass about 20 times that of the Sun. The X-ray transit they found using Chandra data lasted about three hours, during which the X-ray emission decreased to zero.

Based on this and other information, the team estimates the exoplanet candidate in M51-ULS-1 would be roughly the size of Saturn and orbit the neutron star or black hole at about twice the distance of Saturn from the Sun.

The team looked for X-ray transits in three galaxies beyond the Milky Way galaxy, using both Chandra and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton. Their search covered 55 systems in M51, 64 systems in Messier 101 (the "Pinwheel" galaxy), and 119 systems in Messier 104 (the "Sombrero" galaxy).

However, more data would be needed to verify the interpretation as an extragalactic exoplanet. One challenge is that the planet candidate's large orbit means it would not cross in front of its binary partner again for about 70 years, thwarting any attempts for a confirming observation for decades, NASA said.

Named in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Chandra X-ray Observatory is the world's most powerful X-ray telescope. It has eight times greater resolution and is able to detect sources more than 20-times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope.

Known to the world as Chandra (which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit), Chandrasekhar was widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century. (IANS/JB)


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