Facebook Now More Secure

In a blog post today Facebook detailed some of their new security improvements:

Starting today we’ll provide you with the ability to experience Facebook entirely over HTTPS. You should consider enabling this option if you frequently use Facebook from public Internet access points found at coffee shops, airports, libraries or schools. The option will exist as part of our advanced security features, which you can find in the “Account Security” section of the Account Settings page.

Enabling this option will effectively prevent you against Firesheep and similar account hijacking methods. I think it’s fairly safe to assume this feature is a direct response to Firesheep, even if it seems to have taken them 4 months to roll out. Though, it could also be a response to Zuckerburg’s account hack yesterday.

I’m going to go one step further than Facebook and say, you should absolutely enable this option as soon as it’s available to you.

This Week I Learned

Turns out being a dad and employed full time leaves little room for things like long blog posts. I came across a number of particularly fascinating things this week in my travels on the information super highway.

  • Monday: Protocol relative URLs
    Turns out, you can leave out the protocol (http, https, ftp, etc) when including a URL in html and browser will figure out what to do with it. This is particularly useful when including unsecured content on a secure page. I’m sure knowing this years ago would have saved me one or two headaches.
  • Tuesday: What Jason Calacanis Learned From Zuckerberg’s Mistakes
    In his weekly LAUNCH newsletter Calacanis talks about his take on rollout hiccups and privacy mistakes Facebook has make over the years. In his educated opinion “Facebook’s success — and mistakes — are based on its developer-driven culture, not because Zuckerberg is some evil mastermind.” Essentially, Facebook developers have historically been allowed to roll out new features with little to no oversight, allowing the site to iterate quickly, keep ahead of the competition and occasionally annoy foreign governments. He makes a convincing argument.
  • Wednesday: How a quartz watch works
    I already had a rough understanding of the piezoelectric effect as used inside digital watches, the video does an excellent job of explaining the concept. As usual reddit commentary filled in the gaps, explaining in detail exactly how the electronics translate the quartz vibration into time
  • Thursday: Google Bookmarks exists
    Someone leaked that Yahoo! would be shutting down delicious and the internet lost it’s ever-loving mind! Turns out there’s some hope for delicious. Anyways, I haven’t used delicious much since the days it was still called del.ico.us. As far as I can tell, Google Bookmarks has done a pretty good job of pulling out delicious’ most useful features, plus you get the added bonus of having your bookmarks appear at the top of Google results when your search is relevant – if you’ve ever starred something on a search results page you’ll already have some links in Google Bookmarks. I had actually been looking around for a good bookmark service, this discovery couldn’t have come at a better time.
  • Friday: Word Lense
    This iPhone(3GS+) app instantly text on-screen. As in, you point your iPhone at a Spanish sign and the words are replaced onscreen with the english translation. This is easily the most impressive augmented reality technology I’ve seen to date! We are truly living in the future.
    iTunes Link
  • Saturday: Boardgame Remix Kit
    I am a huge fan of the boardgame revival hitting nerdom over the past 10 years, as such, I’ve become quite bored of the classics like Monopoly, Clue(do), Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble. When I came across Boingboing’s post about the Boardgame Remix Kit I was absolutely blown away the creativity and simplicity. The kit is a set of tweaks, mashups and completely new games built on 4 classic board games. It’s available as a PDF for £2.99 on the official site or as an iPhone app for £2.99 ($4.99 in the Canadian store). Both are beautiful.

There you have it, my week in links. This post contains something like 13 links in addition to the main links, I really suggest you click them all.

Firesheep: A Valid Reason to Fear WiFi or How To Hack Your Wife’s Facebook

Just in time for Halloween, a developer by the name of Eric Butler has released Firesheep – a truly terrifying security tool. It’s so simple to use it makes script kiddies look like rocket surgeons. All you have to do is install the Firefox extension, that’s it. With the extension installed at the click of a single button you can collect any session cookies floating around the WiFi network you’re connected to and use those cookies to browse any website the victim logs in to. To reiterate, if you’re on a public (or unsecured) wifi hotspot anyone else on the network has the ability to view your Facebook account, without any technical knowledge at all.

As you can see in the screenshot. Firesheep gives you a nice list of all user logins you’ve collected, including their profile pictures for your convience; clicking one logins you in to the social network as that user, giving you full access to everything they have access to.

While this type of attack has always been a vague hypothetical possibility and there have always been tools available to take advantage of this sort of exploit, it is has never been this simple. It’s the equivalent of putting a “give me money” button on the side of an ATM. Facebook, Twitter and friends are going to have to take notice.

What Not To Worry About

  • Private WiFi. If you know and trust everyone on the WiFi network you’re connected to at home or at work, you probably shouldn’t worry too much. You’re still just as vulnerable to the attack on a private or encrypted WiFi connection. But without open access to the general public, it’s a lot easier to catch the person messing with your account.
  • Passwords. This exploit works without ever knowing your password. No respectable website stores your password in plain text and even if someone gets into your account, most websites will not allow a user to change the password without entering the current password.

How To Protect Yourself

Firesheep is taking advantage of the fact that your session data is being sent over wifi in plain unencrypted text. The only effective protection against this is full end-to-end encryption using HTTPS aka SSL. A lot of websites like banks or government services enforce HTTPS connections due to the sensitive nature of the transactions. Most social networks may offer HTTPS if you type it into the address bar (ex. https://facebook.com/ or https://twitter.com/), but since encryption slows down connections somewhat and is a little more taxing on server hardware, no social networks require you to connect with HTTPS. I suspect this will change within the next couple of weeks, if not sooner. In the mean time there are some steps you can take to make your browser use https.

  • If you use gmail, they provide a handy setting to force gmail to always use a secure connection. Details here. Enable this if you haven’t already. This is not necessary, gmail went 100% SSL earlier this year.
  • For other sites always include the ‘s’ after https when logging on to a website. This should work with any major website. Update your bookmarks now.
  • Right now, I’m serious…
  • ….
  • Unfortunately, updating your bookmarks is not enough. Even when you log in via a secured connection Facebook and many others do not continue to send your traffic over secured links as you click around the site. Meaning, as soon as you leave that first httpS page, your may begin to expose your session details.
  • If you use Firefox, Techcrunch has an article on configuring Force-TLS an add-on that forces sites to use HTTPS. Details Here.
  • If you use Chrome or Safari, there are a few Greasemonkey extensions you can install that do similar things. This one covers a lot of sites. Take a look at the directory for more.
  • Do not user Internet Explorer.

That said…

If you’re wondering who that neighbour with open WiFi has been messaging on Facebook, it’s never been easier to find out. Download the extension (disclaimer: don’t actually do this, it might be illegal).