SMUG Facebook Hacker Challenge Update

The SMUG $100 Facebook Hacker Challenge, which I conceived in response to a question during this podcast interview, has attracted some interest.

Anthony at AllFacebook put out the all-points-bulletin for hackers to give it a shot. And Goob said

Frankly, I think it’s just a great publicity event. Promise some money if people can do something you’re confident is impossible, let a ton of other sites write about it and link back to you, and sit back and relax. I can [sic] the same thing though. I’ll give $1 million dollars to anybody who can figure out the number I’m thinking of between 1 and 78 gazillion. See, it’s that easy.

And Justin Flowers added, while misspelling my name,

While reading the post, I suddenly realized that I had a similar challenge that I wanted to make, and that, in fact, I was willing to offer more money for mine.

You see, I, Justin Flowers, trust the security at the US treasury so much that I’m willing to offer a $1000 dollar reward to anyone that can break into the US Treasury, and steal $1,000,000 US. If you show me the 1 million, I’ll pay up. I’m willing to double my payout if you bring me a picture of you in a vault at the Treasury.

In their rush to sarcasm, they both Goob and Justin missed the point. The security of the US Treasury isn’t in question, and this isn’t about mind reading. No one doubts whether the banking system is safe from being hacked (even by Danny Ocean and his 10 friends).

But data security for business information is precisely the issue with Facebook. I get the question a lot, as I did on the MindComet podcast:

“If I use a secret Facebook group for business planning, can I feel confident that my data will be secure?”

And that’s the reason for the SMUG Facebook Hacker Challenge. I’m betting $100 that the answer is “yes.”

Do I hope lots of people link to the hacker challenge and spread the word? Yes, because that will help us find the answer to our question about data security in Facebook secret groups. This is a real academic research project.

Unlike Goob, I’m not thinking of a random number for someone to guess. I have a real answer for someone to find on this secret Facebook group, if they can beat Facebook’s group security. It’s right there, in the recent news section of the group. And the information itself is worth a lot more than the $100 bounty.

Yet in the blog discussions of the hacker challenge, one question that’s been raised is whether the $100 prize is lucrative enough to attract the attention of a really proficient hacker. In fact, in the comments on the post announcing the challenge, the mysterious jmprei offered to do it for $1,000. I guess the $100 isn’t enough for her or him.

As a professor at SMUG, I do have the security of tenure (after all, I’m the Chancellor), but since

  • we don’t charge any tuition for our online university, and
  • our University Endowment is…well…zero, and therefore
  • My SMUG salary also is nonexistent…

I’m not ready to raise the ante on my own. (In fact, my wife says the current hacker challenge prize has to come out of my Christmas money.)

So if anyone else thinks it’s worth raising the payout to find out how safe your business-related data would be in a secret Facebook group, here’s an opportunity for you to provide some extramural research funding for SMUG.

I’ve established a PayPal account for the SMUG Research Fund, and have transferred $100 into it. Whoever meets the SMUG Hacker challenge first gets whatever is in the account at the time of the hack.

So it becomes a fun little game of chicken for any hackers who think a $100 prize (and worldwide fame) isn’t worthy of their time and talents. As SMUG students or any interested bystanders make their $1, $2, $5, $10 or larger contributions to the SMUG Research Fund, I will update this post to indicate the new prize level.

I think it may eventually reach the point at which Greed and Fear will intersect for some hacker. They would then have the Deal or No Deal decision to make: Do I wait for the prize to go up and increase the payoff, or do I claim it now to avoid having someone else snipe it?

Please note: None of our 40 students (cool!) should feel any obligation to contribute.  Social Media University, Global is a free university. Also, contributions to the SMUG Research Fund are not tax deductible. But if anyone does want to help advance our practical knowledge of whether Facebook is safe for business data, click here or in the SMUG Research Endowment widget at the bottom of the right sidebar.

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Author: Lee Aase

Married father of six and grandfather of nine, and the Chancellor of SMUG - Social Media University, Global. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

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