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Vulnerabilities / Threats

10/22/2018
05:30 PM
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Facebook Rumored to Be Hunting for Major Cybersecurity Acquisition

Goal appears both a bid to bolster its own security and its tattered reputation for privacy, according to reporting by The Information.

Weeks after Facebook disclosed a data breach that impacted 50 million users, the social media behemoth is reportedly shopping around for a cybersecurity firm to help bolster its internal security capabilities.

The Information on Sunday quoted four unnamed sources as saying that Facebook has already approached several security firms about a potential acquisition. A deal could happen before the end of this year and will likely involve a big cybersecurity company, the Information said, quoting its sources.

Facebook's acquisition quest appears to be driven both by a desire to boost its security capabilities and to mend the company's shredded reputation for data privacy in recent months, The Information added.

Even before the recent data breach, Facebook had faced intense criticism for allowing—now defunct—U.K. analytics firm Cambridge Analytica to access and misuse data belonging to some 87 million Facebook users during the 2016 US General Elections.

Facebook, like Twitter and Google, has been under growing pressure from US lawmakers and others, to do more to prevent its platform from being used to spread misinformation and fake news stories. The pressure has only intensified on Facebook in recent weeks after a flaw in its platform forced the company to reset security tokens for tens of millions of users amid account takeover concerns.

Facebook did not respond to a Dark Reading request seeking comment on the company's rumored acquisition plans.

Jim Zuffoletti, CEO of startup SafeGuard Cyber, says Facebook's security priorities right now are likely about taking on security issues affecting its users and advertisers. "We believe passionately that Facebook and Facebook users would benefit from deeper and more comprehensive protection against malicious attacks, disinformation, account takeovers, and bad actors," says Zuffoletti.

It would make sense for Facebook to continue to bring expertise through hiring outside experts or via M&A. "Each of those moves would make an important statement to the market about Facebook's priorities and commitment," he says.

At the same time, Facebook also needs to encourage an ecosystem of third-party security companies that can collaborate with Facebook in protecting users and advertisers, Zuffoletti says. Facebook's ThreatExchange initiative for sharing threat information with developers is one example of the kind of effort that Facebook needs to continue making.  

"It would make a ton of sense for Facebook to encourage a dynamic ecosystem of companies that they can collaborate with to protect Facebook, users, and advertisers," he says.

SafeGuard Cyber is one several security companies that The Information mentioned in its report as the sort of vendor that Facebook is likely going after. But Zuffoletti himself dismissed the suggestion as pure speculation: "We're heads down filling a critical and growing gap in the security fabric of companies large and small who want to be social but must have essential protections specific to their needs," he says.

Social Security

Facebook is certainly not alone in wanting to bolster its security capabilities via an acquisition. Numerous other companies have made similar purchases for similar reasons over the years. In 2011, Twitter, for instance, acquired Whisper Systems to boost its encryption capabilities. Since then Twitter has purchased at least two other security firms—web-security firm Dasient and password management technology vendor Mitro.

Microsoft's many mergers and acquisitions include several security companies, including Adallom and Hexadite. Google, too, has acquired multiple security firms over the years.

If these new acquisition plans are confirmed for Facebook, it won't be its first purchase in the security realm for the social media giant. Earlier this year Facebook acquired Confirm.io in a move to strengthen its ability to remotely authenticate government-issued identification cards. In 2014, the company acquired PrivateCore, a vendor of technology for protecting servers against malware threats.

John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at the SANS Institute, believes Facebook is likely looking for technology that the company can bake into its infrastructure to address the most pressing security concerns. "They have two big problems—one is fake news, the other is hacking into individual accounts," Pescatore says. 

Strong user authentication is one example of the kind of technology that Facebook is likely interested in, Pescatore says. Companies with tools that help strengthen Facebook's ability to detect fake accounts and suspicious user activity are other likely acquisition targets, he says.

Facebook's goal is likely to find some sort of a privacy-preserving technology that ensures legitimate users have access to its platform while blocking fake users, adds Pete Lindstrom, an analyst with IDC. "Facebook is a great example of where privacy and security part ways," Lindstrom says. 

"If you are in the business of selling access to people through their data, it's going to make a lot of people uncomfortable." What Facebook is likely attempting to do is find a way to help protect user data while elevating its reputation in the process, Lindstrom says.

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Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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