Facebook Donates $250,000 To The University of Alabama At Birmingham Using Money Acquired From Spammers

Facebook has donated $250,000 to the Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in recognition of its efforts in tracking down the creators of the social media botnet Koobface and other spammers. The donation, in fact, comes from money Facebook recovered from spammers around the world. The center says it will be using the grant to expand its headquarters on campus.

“As a result of numerous collaborations over the years, Facebook recognizes the center as both a partner in fighting Internet abuse, and as a critical player in developing future experts who will become dedicated cybersecurity professionals,” said Facebook Chief Security Officer and Board Member at the National Cyber Security Alliance, Joe Sullivan, in statement provided to StaySafeOnline.org.

For those unfamiliar, the Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research (or, CIA|JFR) gathers resources from law enforcement, business, government agencies, and academia, as well as over 1 million spam messages per day in its UAB “Spam Data Mine.” It then uses this data to help track down, identify and stop cyber criminals and spammers. In its 35-station computer lab, students from the departments of Computer & Information Sciences and Justice Sciences work with government and corporate investigators to fight against spam, phishing attacks and malware.

In January 2012, Facebook Security posted an announcement detailing the social network’s fight against Koobface, saying that it took three years “of working closely with industry leaders, the security community, and law enforcement” in order to end its threat to Facebook users. The malware, which first surfaced in 2008, tricked users into paying for fake anti-virus software, and took control of users’ computers by joining them to a botnet. Facebook said it was able to take down the botnet’s “command and control” center in March 2011, and had no new sightings of Koobface in the nine months which followed.

Two of the four people thanked in Facebook’s January post came from UAB: Brian Tanner, then a student and now the first UAB student to earn a master’s degree in Computer Forensics and Security Management; and Gary Warner, director of Research in Computer Forensics. The FBI has also thanked UAB in 2011 for helping it solve a cyberattack which had infected over 4 million computers across 100+ countries.

Richard Marchase, Ph.D., interim UAB president, had backed the creation of the CIA|JFR when he was the university’s Vice President of Research and Economic Development. “Cyberattacks are generally perpetrated by sophisticated networks, so we all realized that any successful effort to combat them would likewise require a specialized network that could compete with anything operating in the underworld,” Marchase said. “The center has already assembled an internationally respected team, and now Facebook’s generous contribution will help provide us with a state-of-the-art headquarters, positioning UAB at the vanguard of the global fight against cybercrime.”

The $250,000 will be used towards new CIA|JFR headquarters, located on the top of the University Boulevard Office building on campus. The HQ will include a “Facebook Suite,” scheduled to open February 12, 2013. The suite will serve at the “nerve center,” says CIA|JFR co-founder Anthony Skjellum, Ph.D., who is also chair of the UAB Department of Computer and Information Sciences. “It will be the place where cybervisionaries from around the world will gather to share ideas, discoveries and solutions,” he adds.