Facebook CSO says Snowden disclosures brought security to forefront

The disclosures made it easier to have a conversation about security, according to Joe Sullivan

Facebook continues to upgrade its security infrastructure while also closely scrutinizing law enforcement requests, said CSO Joe Sullivan.
Facebook continues to upgrade its security infrastructure while also closely scrutinizing law enforcement requests, said CSO Joe Sullivan.

Facebook was already implementing stronger security controls when the U.S. National Security Agency's expansive surveillance program was revealed in June, its chief security officer said Thursday.

The social networking site has continued upgrading its security infrastructure, said Joe Sullivan[cq], who spoke to IDG News Service by phone from the Hack in the Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's disclosures "maybe made it a little bit easier to have that conversation publicly and show the effort that has been going on behind the scenes all along," Sullivan said.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the NSA was collecting email and instant messaging address books as the lists are transmitted on the Internet from services including Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google.

The company said it was unaware that data was collected and did not assist. Sullivan said information such as chat contact lists are now encrypted, as Facebook has enabled TLS (Transport Security Layer), or "https" encryption by default. That would shield the data unless the interceptor could decrypt it, although Facebook just turned on that feature for all users in July.

Facebook's security roadmap includes moving from 1,024-bit to 2,048-bit RSA encryption, Sullivan said. It also plans to implement Perfect Forward Secrecy, an encryption feature that limits the amount of data that can be decrypted if a private key is compromised in the future. Sullivan said he hopes that work is finished by year's end.

Facebook was one of many companies, including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Apple, that were wrapped into NSA's Prism program, which collected a wide variety of electronic data from service providers, according to slides published by the Washington Post.

After discussions with the U.S. government, Facebook and other technology companies were allowed in June to release some figures related to data collection requests from the U.S Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and National Security Letters.

But Facebook, Google and Yahoo are pushing to disclose more. The companies filed petitions on Sept. 9 asking the U.S Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for permission to release more information on orders and directives.

Sullivan said Facebook has had in place "very robust practices around scrutinizing every single law enforcement request so that when we had an opportunity to be transparent, we could feel good about that."

In August, the company released its first Global Government Requests Report. In many cases, Facebook didn't turn over data to a government despite a request.

Law enforcement often don't know how to ask for the information they're looking for, such as not being specific enough about what user they're seeking information on, Sullivan said. Other times, the account requested doesn't exist or can't be identified.

All requests are reviewed manually by a team to ensure they meet legal standards, which can be incredibly complicated. "As is apparent from the statistics, a decent percentage of requests that we get are not legally sufficient," Sullivan said.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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