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Facebook Login Bug: Lessons Learned

Service interruption at dozens of prominent websites including CNN and Hulu reminds that third-party code integration carries risks.

Facebook's 2012 Highs And Lows
Facebook's 2012 Highs And Lows
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Several dozen high-profile websites that allow users to login with Facebook credentials became inaccessible for a short period on Thursday afternoon as a result of a bug in Facebook's code.

Around 4 p.m. Pacific Time, the websites operated by at least 35 companies, including ABC, CNN, Gawker, Hulu, Pinterest, Reddit and Yahoo, began redirecting online visitors to a Facebook error page.

Facebook has acknowledged the problem and says that everything is working again. "For a short period of time, there was a bug that redirected people from third party sites with Facebook Login to Facebook.com," a company spokeswoman said in an email. "The issue was quickly resolved."

Asked about how the bug was introduced and whether the company has taken steps to prevent the issue from recurring, Facebook did not respond.

[ Struggling to connect with customers? Read 5 Social Best Practices From Cisco. ]

Facebook Login, previously referred to as Facebook Connect, is an API that allows developers to provide website visitors and mobile app users with the ability to log in to websites and apps using their Facebook credentials. It relies on a protocol called OAuth 2.0 for authentication and authorization and is implemented in JavaScript for Web applications or via platform-specific SDKs.

Hundreds of millions of people log in to third-party websites every month using Facebook Login. The last time anyone from Facebook provided Login usage statistics appears to be in December 2010, when the figure was 250 million people per month. As of March 2012, nine million websites and apps had integrated Facebook Login, according to the company.

But relying on third-party services such as Facebook Login or Google Analytics presents a risk. Ashkan Soltani, an independent security researcher who previously served as staff technologist at the Federal Trade Commission, warns that too few people appreciate the implications of relying on third-party code.

"The browser model allows execution of code from a variety of different sources," explained Soltani in a phone interview. "When you visit a website like CNN's and they embed a third-party service like Facebook Login, you're effectively executing code served by this third party when you visit the website. That has some interesting security implications."

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