Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

AFRICA NEWS

Central African Republic: Brazzaville ceasefire talks delivers fragile deal

Read more

FOCUS

Sluggish tourist season in Crimea

Read more

ENCORE!

Bartabas : Mixing Christ with Spanish music and dancing horses

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Shifts in the propaganda war waged between Israelis and Palestinians

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

French MPs face quandary in pro-Palestinian rallies

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Yezid Sayigh, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut

Read more

#TECH 24

Mind the Gender Gap : getting more women into the tech sector

Read more

INSIDE THE AMERICAS

Bolivian children: heading to work aged 10

Read more

WEB NEWS

Israel and Hamas battle online over public opinion

Read more

  • Live: France says missing Algerian plane 'probably crashed'

    Read more

  • 51 French nationals aboard missing Algerian plane

    Read more

  • Deadly Israeli strike on UN shelter in Gaza Strip

    Read more

  • Italy’s Nibali cruises to easy victory in 18th stage of Tour de France

    Read more

  • Iraqi parliament elects moderate Kurd as president

    Read more

  • US, European aviation agencies lift travel restrictions to Tel Aviv

    Read more

  • Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death arrives in Italy

    Read more

  • No end to fighting until Israel ends Gaza blockade, Hamas says

    Read more

  • Two foreign women shot dead in western Afghanistan

    Read more

  • At least 60 killed in attack on prison convoy near Baghdad

    Read more

  • Cycling is ‘winning the war on doping,’ says expert

    Read more

  • Ceasefire agreed for Central African Republic

    Read more

  • Can Jew-kissing-Arab selfie give peace a viral chance?

    Read more

  • Botched Arizona execution takes nearly two hours

    Read more

  • Bomb attacks leave scores dead in north Nigeria

    Read more

Business

How Facebook found itself in the midst of a revolution

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2011-01-24

In a clever public relations move, social networking site Facebook revealed on Monday how it went up against Tunisia's government as it tried to rein in a popular revolt by stealing internet user names and passwords.

Social networking site Facebook has recently come forward with a story of its own struggle against the government of recently deposed Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
 
“We have never encountered a security problem of the magnitude of that which took place in Tunisia,” the company said of its efforts to counter the regime’s attempts to identify Facebook users during the run-up to Ben Ali’s spectacular fall from power earlier this month.  

Joe Sullivan, the chief security officer at Facebook, recounted the incident in the American monthly The Atlantic in an interview published on Monday that not only highlights Facebook’s pivotal role in Tunisia’s unfolding revolution but reaffirms the company as a star of Web 2.0.

It all began around the holiday season, when Facebook began receiving complaints from Tunisian users that their accounts had been erased. The country had been gripped by weeks of violent protests following the dramatic December 17 self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in a protest over employment. Amid the continuing unrest, Tunisian internet users thought they might have been the victims of a government clampdown on the Web.  
 
But despite the swell of complaints, Facebook could not identify a problem with user accounts in Tunisia. It would take Sullivan’s team more than 10 days to comprehend what exactly was going on. What they discovered was that Ben Ali’s regime was effectively stealing a nation’s worth of user identities and passwords.

An apolitical response to a political crisis
 
Sullivan told “The Atlantic” that after extensive investigation, they found that Tunisia’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were aggressively capturing user details.
 
“In this case, we were confronted by ISPs that were doing something unprecedented in that they were being very active in their attempts to intercept user information,” Sullivan said.
 
That discovery pointed a finger at the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), the country’s main internet service provider, as being responsible for pirating the information. An offshoot of Tunisia’s Ministry of Communication, ATI was using a malicious piece of code that allowed the agency to record users’ log-in information when they visited sites like Facebook.
 
To counter the problem, Facebook introduced a link that would allow Tunisians to connect securely (via an “https” address instead of the usual “http”). In addition, users who wanted to access their accounts had to answer a series of security questions to confirm their identities. According to Sullivan, these two seemingly simple steps helped prevent Ben Ali’s regime from erasing or modifying all of the country’s Facebook accounts.
 
“At its core, from our standpoint, it’s a security issue around passwords, and making sure that we protect the integrity of passwords and accounts,” Sullivan said. “It was very much a black and white security issue and less of a political issue.”
 

Despite having become entangled in a major political event, Facebook’s desire to remain
apolitical is why it waited until Ben Ali left power on January 14 before coming forward with its story.
 
Facebook's troubles have confirmed suspicions held by free speech organisations – and, of course, many Tunisians – that internet access under the former regime was held on a very short leash.

 

Date created : 2011-01-24

  • TUNISIA

    Ben Ali rules out 'presidency for life,' vows less police violence, more press freedom

    Read more

  • TUNISIA

    Interim president promises 'total break' with old regime

    Read more

  • TUNISIA

    Tunisian revolution finds time for a bit of much-needed Facebook humour

    Read more

COMMENT(S)