Facebook, UAB Will Partner to Combat Online Drug Sales

The social media company’s partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Computer Forensics Research Lab will center on identifying the street names for drugs and stopping sales over the site.

by Erin Edgemon, Alabama Media Group / November 29, 2018
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(TNS) — The University of Alabama at Birmingham has partnered with Facebook to identify the latest street names for drugs in an attempt to prevent illegal sales over the social network.

UAB’s Computer Forensics Research Lab is working closely with Facebook’s Community Operations team to flag content that may violate the social network’s policies on illicit drug sales, the university and Facebook announced.

“Our partnership with Facebook has grown from identifying spam to anti-terrorism work and now combating drug sales online,” said Gary Warner, director of Research in Computer Forensics at UAB. “Our students receive hands-on learning in monitoring online communities to identify and develop a database of terms attempted by bad actors to skirt detection. These key terms will be used within the coalition to fight drug sales across multiple platforms.”

The Computer Forensics Research Lab is able to share insights with Facebook based on their research and from what they monitor elsewhere on the web.

Facebook announced the partnership last week.

The social network said its partnering with Google and Twitter in a new coalition, Tech Together to Fight the Opioid Crisis, to help those struggling with addiction. Led by the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies, the coalition will enable the social media companies to share best practices and find ways to increase their collective impact to address the crisis, Facebook said.

At UAB, the Computer Forensics Research Lab is also working with the forensics science program, led by Elizabeth Gardner, to study emerging drugs of abuse and counterfeit and illicit drugs purchased online. The interdisciplinary partnership combines Gardner’s ability to perform drug analysis with their specialty equipment and her and her students’ chemical expertise with the online criminal expertise of CFRL to assist a variety of law enforcement and government agencies, according to UAB.

From the partnership with the forensics science program, the Computer Forensics Research Lab team now has more than 350 search terms for various synonyms and analogues of fentanyl. A combination of pairing these keywords with phrases about the purchase and shipping of drugs, combined with a complex “white list” of academic, medical and journalistic mentions of drugs, helps the team quickly target drug sales sites while avoiding many unhelpful sites, according to UAB.

UAB began working with Facebook in 2010 to investigate malware such as the Koobface botnet, Warner said. The university went on to partner with Facebook on a variety of projects related to diversity in cybersecurity and encouraging high schoolers to pursue cyber security in their higher education.

Facebook also contracted with UAB to help identify phishing websites imitating Facebook. More recently, the Facebook contract has concentrated on counter terrorism, cybercrime on Facebook and harmful behavior on social networks, Warner said.

©2018 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.