Facebook will begin notifying users when it suspects a state-affiliated entity has attempted to hack into their account, chief security officer Alex Stamos wrote a blog post on October 17.
Users that Facebook believes are targets of such attacks will receive the following message:
The company implemented this system because attacks from state-affiliated organizations “tend to be more advanced and dangerous than others,” Stamos said. Facebook won’t reveal how it distinguishes between security breaches that originate from the government versus those that come from other hackers.
Facebook has chosen a timely moment to announce this feature, from a user point of view. But given the company’s ambitions in China, it is also a somewhat unusual time.
Tensions over cybersecurity issues between the United States and China are at an all-time high. Reports in US media this June alleged that the Chinese government was behind hacks that stole personal data of an estimated 18 million government employees. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping recently signed a pact declaring neither government would hack into private companies in the other’s country.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, is making it clear that he hopes his company can enter China. Doing so would likely mean compromising the privacy of Facebook users there, and possibly in other countries as well.
Facebook hasn’t revealed any instances of expected state-sponsored hacking in the past. But the Syrian Electronic Army, the Tunisian government, and even the Chinese government have reportedly made attempts to hack the social network. The US government is not beyond suspicion either. Facebook’s transparency report for the second part of 2014 shows that the US government requested access to data for 21,731 accounts—far more than any other country.