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Facebook (FB) - Get Meta Platforms Inc. Class A Report acknowledged in a blog post Thursday that it had stored the passwords of hundreds of millions of users in a readable format within its internal data systems for years, in the latest data security issue to hit the company.

That meant Facebook employees would have been able to easily view and perform searches on the passwords. 

"As part of a routine security review in January, we found that some user passwords were being stored in a readable format within our internal data storage systems," Facebook wrote in its post. "This caught our attention because our login systems are designed to mask passwords using techniques that make them unreadable. We have fixed these issues and as a precaution we will be notifying everyone whose passwords we have found were stored in this way."

The issue was first reported on in a story on KrebsOnSecurity. According to that report, a Facebook source said the company's investigation indicated that between 200 million and 600 million Facebook users may have had their passwords stored in plain text, making them searchable by more than 20,000 Facebook employees, potentially as far back as 2012.

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Facebook said it would notify "hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users, tens of millions of other Facebook users, and tens of thousands of Instagram users" that it believed could have been affected. But it emphasized that the passwords were not visible to anyone outside the company, and had no evidence yet that any of its employees had abused or improperly accessed the passwords.

Facebook also said that as part of its review, it had examined how it stored other categories of information, such as access tokens, and fixed problems as they were discovered.  

Facebook shares were down about 0.4% to $164.76 on Thursday afternoon. 

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