Rough Week for Facebook and Twitter Users

Outages, onmouserovers and pornography, oh my!

3 min read
Rough Week for Facebook and Twitter Users

Twitter and Facebook users have had a rough seven days. On Tuesday, a cross-site scripting (XSS) security hole that was found and fixed a month ago was reintroduced by mistake through a Twitter site update, and then over the weekend, Twitter was hit by hackers again.

A Twitter post explained the XSS problem this way:,

"Early this morning, a user noticed the security hole and took advantage of it on First, someone created an account that exploited the issue by turning tweets different colors and causing a pop-up box with text to appear when someone hovered over the link in the Tweet. This is why folks are referring to this an 'onMouseOver' flaw -- the exploit occurred when someone moused over a link.

"Other users took this one step further and added code that caused people to retweet the original Tweet without their knowledge."

"This exploit affected and did not impact our mobile web site or our mobile applications. The vast majority of exploits related to this incident fell under the prank or promotional categories. Users may still see strange retweets in their timelines caused by the exploit. However, we are not aware of any issues related to it that would cause harm to computers or their accounts. And, there is no need to change passwords because user account information was not compromised through this exploit."

There are several stories such as here, here and here about who is "claiming credit" for the discovery.

Anyway, as a result, some Twitter accounts went nuts.

 According to the LA Times, "White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ Twitter account sent an unintelligible automatic message to his nearly 100,000 followers Tuesday morning ... ", while the London Guardianreported that, ".. Sarah Brown, wife of the former prime minister Gordon Brown, who has 1.1 million followers on the service, was hit by a version which redirected anyone who hovered their mouse over the infected tweet to a Japanese hardcore pornography site."

You can read about the spread of the virus in a Guardian story here and a timeline of it published in PCWorld here.

Then, over the weekend, Twitter had to stop a worm that ComputerWorldsays posted obscene messages to Twitter accounts. A Twitter blog post yesterday says:

"A malicious link is making the rounds that will post a tweet to your account when clicked on. Twitter has disabled the link, and is currently resolving the issue.

UPDATE Sun Sep 26 18:41:49 UTC 2010: We've fixed the exploit and are in the process of removing the offending Tweets."

Facebook also had problems last week. On Wednesday, some Facebook users had difficulty accessing their accounts. Facebook blamed the problem on a third party vendor. According to this news report on Mashable:

"We are experiencing an issue with a third party networking provider that is causing problems for some people trying to connect to Facebook," the [Facebook] told Mashable in a statement. "We are in contact with this provider in order to explore what can be done to resolve the issue. In the meantime, we are working on deploying changes to bypass the affected connections."

Then yesterday, Facebook went down for 2.5 hours in what it termed was the worst outage in 4 years. The problem was caused by a change in a Facebook system that checked for verifying configuration values.

Facebook, in a post providing a detailed explanation of the error, said that the change "ended up causing much more damage than it fixed."

Facebook apologized and said, "... we want you to know that we take the performance and reliability of Facebook very seriously."

A blog post by Kashmir Hill at Forbes says the outage looks suspiciously coincidental. Seems that last week Facebook engineers were musing about what would happen if Facebook were to go out for an entire day.

A Facebook engineer responded by saying, "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria."

All very Ghostbustersish.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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