November 13, 2018

New partnership between Facebook, UAB to help fight online drug sales

Written by

gary warner experts2017 2Gary WarnerMonitoring the latest tactics in drug sales used by bad actors to mask their activity, such as new street names for drugs, is the focus of a new partnership between the University of Alabama at Birmingham Computer Forensics Research Lab and Facebook. UAB works closely with Facebook’s Community Operations team to flag content that may violate their Community Standards for illicit drug sales.

“Our partnership with Facebook has grown from identifying spam to antiterrorism 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.”

With the expertise based at UAB, CFRL is able to partner with Facebook to share insights from their research and from what is monitored elsewhere on the web.

The CFRL works closely with the UAB Forensics Science Program led by Elizabeth Gardner, Ph.D., 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.

In working with Gardner and her chemists, the CFRL 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.

Today, Facebook announced the partnership in its Newsroom.