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. or, 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).

Quit Facebook Day

Today is Quit Facebook Day. While I agree with the privacy concerns to some degree and it seems like Mark Zuckerberg might not be a trustworthy person; unfortunately, I don’t feel like there is a good alternative to Facebook, for that reason I think it would be difficult for me to live online without Facebook.

I wanted to deactivate my account for the day in solidarity. When I attempted to do so, I was presented with this error.

ZUCKED! Note that the error does not tell me which application I need to delete or re-assign, it could be multiple applications for all I know. After deleting the 1 offending application, I was still unable to deactivate the account. So much for that.

Quit Facebook Day Links:

Dear Facebook Quitters…

There’s been a lot talk in the mainstream press about growing dissatisfaction regarding Facebook’s complete disregard for privacy. Prominent nerds are quitting or threatening to quit Facebook. On today’s Buzz Out Loud they suggested that if Facebook doesn’t change their course soon, this is going to be worst than the Myspace exodus.

My only question is, where are you going to go? Friendster?

Facebook Does It Again

I feel compelled to comment on the new Facebook layout. Based on status updates, I was one of the last people on my friends list to receive the new layout. Every single one of their status updates were negative, all of my Facebook friends universally hated the new layout. It seems like that last redesign only came out a 3 or 4 months ago, I wonder if this might been partially responsible for the backlash. It’s human nature to hate change.

I must say, when I first saw the screenshots of the new layout posted on the official Facebook blog a few weeks ago I was rather optimistic. The FB crew seemed to be embracing the new “real-time” web that’s become popular with the rise of Twitter. I really like the way that all your friends’ updates just appear in one big long list. It’s a major improvement over the old “news feed” which was entirely broken! There would be times when I’d see a “story” 2 times on the same day, or the story would appear one day, then re-appear the next for no apparent reason. It was frustrating.

I haven’t run across it yet, but I imagine they the real-time feed could easily become incredibly busy and equally unusable. The filters along the left-hand side should help to alleviate this problem. But it’s possible that at certain times of the day, for heavy users, there is going to be too much junk to weed through.

I’m really not sure how I feel about the overal design itself. They left the header and (floating) footer alone. Those two elements have have always been the least useful, most confusing elements of the site (like why does the “Inbox” drop down menu have a link to “view message inbox” that takes you to the same place as clicking “inbox” – baffling!). It’s lacking something I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s empty and busy at the same time, if that’s possible.