How Close Did This Guy Get to Hacking Facebook?

A British man was released on bail today after he was busted trying to break into Facebook. According to the authorities, he allegedly "secured access" to Facebook servers repeatedly. So how close did he get to taking control of the social network's 700 million accounts?

Glenn Mangham, a 25-year-old resident of York was released on bail today in England. Scotland Yard arrested him in June after a tip from the FBI. He was charged with five counts of computer-related crime, including two accusing him of illegally accessing Facebook servers repeatedly.

Here's what the Guardian says about his case:

Between 17 April and 9 May he is accused of downloading a computer program "to secure unauthorised access" to Facebook; of attempting to hack into Facebook's "Mailman" server; of using PHP script to secure access to another Facebook server, dubbed "Phabricator"; of sharing a PHP script intended to hack into that Facebook server; and of securing "repeated" access to another Facebook server.

It is not known what data Mangham is accused of accessing. The information commissioner's office, which investigates potential data breaches of this kind, said that Facebook had not reported any incident over this period.

Facebook isn's saying much about the case, except that no user data was compromised. But it appears Mangham was after a bigger prize. He's charged with illegally getting access to a "Phabricator" server, an open-source program that Facebook released to help teams of software developers communicate. Facebook uses Phabricator to develop their own systems, and If Mangham was accessing their Phabricator server, he was likely looking for Facebook's source code. If he had got that, he could have leveraged the knowledge gained from studying the inner workings of Facebook to do even more damage. In addition to Phabricator, Mangham also got "repeated" access to another mystery Facebook server. (Hopefully it was the one that spams your wall with FarmVille updates.)

In the 90s classic Hackers, a supercomputer called the Gibson was the mother of all targets. Today Facebook is the Gibson. The frenzy around a bogus threat by the hacktivist collective Anonymous to "kill" Facebook earlier this month shows just what a tempting target it makes for fame-seeking hackers. Let's hope Facebook's security team is the cyberspace equivalent of Robocop.

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