Facebook aided the FBI to catch a child predator in California who harassed and threatened young girls several times. To succeed in its mission, the giant social network turned to hacking, as the victim used sophisticated technology to hide his identity.
For quite a long time, Facebook had been pursuing Buster Hernandez, 28, without success. It’s alleged that the 28-year-old used the secure operating system Tails to conceal his real IP address for all those years. As such, he continued harassing and exploiting hundreds of young girls on Facebook.
After trying to get hold of the child predator several times without success, the social network decided to work closely with a cyber-security firm to develop a hacking tool that exploited his concealment technique. It took advantage of the bug in Tails’ video player to identify the suspect. The technology revealed the real IP address of anyone watching a video, and, therefore, Hernandez’s long-time tricks came to an end.
It’s reported that Facebook paid the third-party company six figures to get the job done. Once the tool was ready, the cybersecurity firm, handed it over to the FBI. While the FBI succeeded in tracking the suspect, it’s still unclear whether the security agency knows that Facebook took part in the development of the tool.
To get hold of Hernandez, the FBI worked with a victim and sent a booby-trapped video to the suspect using the software. Through that, the security agency was able to gather sufficient evidence against Hernandez, leading to his arrest and conviction. In February this year, The 28-year-old pleaded guilty for more than 40 charges, including threats to injure and kill the victims.
According to Facebook employees, it’s the first time the company is going out of its way to help law enforcement track down a suspect. While security researchers will inform a company of any vulnerability spotted in its system, it wasn’t the case with the video-playing flaw in Tails. This is because the FBI intended to take advantage of the bug to catch a suspect.
Tails operating system is also used by journalists, activists, and dissidents who are under threats of surveillance by the government or law enforcement. As such, there’s a possibility that the FBI used the new development for other reasons apart from tracking Hernandez.
Tails says Facebook didn’t inform them about the exploit. However, Facebook’s security team said it would have alerted the company of the bug soon after the investigation was over, and that they were aware an upcoming version of Tails was due to fix the flaw.