Facebook's one-time-password system still leaves users open to security risks

October 13, 2010 Sophos Press Release

Woman texting from cafe

Facebook announced a new feature yesterday that claims to give users an additional method to keep their social networking account secure. Facebook claims that its new one-time password feature will make it safer to use Facebook on computers in public places such as hotels, cafes or airports - as users can now request to receive a temporary password by SMS message which expires after 20 minutes.

However, Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, warns that Facebook's one-time password feature could in fact result in further security concerns for users.

"If you believe a computer might not be secure in the first place, why would you use it to access personal accounts such as Facebook? A temporary password may stop keylogging spyware giving cybercriminals a permanent backdoor into your account, but it doesn't stop malware from spying on your activities online and seeing what's happening on your screen," said Cluley. "Furthermore, if you're anything like me, it's likely that you've mislaid your mobile phone from time to time. If someone who knows your email address gains access to your phone and sends a text message, your Facebook account will be unlocked."

"There's a simple lesson that everyone needs to learn. Never visit websites like Facebook from computers that may not be running adequate anti-virus software or security patches. If you don't trust the PC, don't use it to access Facebook - even if you do have a temporary password," continued Cluley. "Instead, wait until you have access to a trusted PC, rather than risking sharing your personal information with unknown others. There's a real danger that the one-time-password system will be viewed as a green light by Facebook users to access their accounts from unsafe PCs."

More information about the risks can be found on Graham Cluley's blog