11:29 AM

Facebook Boosts Security With SSL Encryption

Technology upgrade blocks Firesheep and eavesdropping attacks, but, for now, users must opt in.

How Firesheep Can Hijack Web Sessions
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: How Firesheep Can Hijack Web Sessions

On Wednesday, Facebook announced that it's adding HTTPS, which uses SSL/TLS encryption, to secure all communications between browsers and Facebook Web servers. The move means that Facebook users will now see a lock icon or a green SSL address bar when using the Facebook site.

Previously, Facebook used HTTPS only on pages that required users to enter a password. Now, extending HTTPS to all pages means better security because tools such as Firesheep -- an automated browser extension able to hijack sessions with Web 2.0 sites -- as well as packet sniffers will no longer work against the site.

There's only one catch: HTTPS won't be enabled by default. According to Facebook security engineer Alex Rice, "we hope to offer HTTPS as a default whenever you are using Facebook sometime in the future."

In the interim, the feature will shortly -- over the next few weeks -- become available to all users. To activate it, they'll have to manually select it on the "advanced security features" page, which is located under the "account security" section of the "account settings" page.

Rice warned that users may see some issues, at least in the short term. "Encrypted pages take longer to load, so you may notice that Facebook is slower using HTTPS. In addition, some Facebook features, including many third-party applications, are not currently supported in HTTPS. We'll be working hard to resolve these remaining issues."

But based on other Web sites' experiences, any slowdowns should be minor, as long as Facebook correctly implements the protocol. For example, in July 2010, Google software engineer Matt Cutts posted an assessment of Google's experience. In brief: "If you stop reading now you only need to remember one thing: SSL/TLS is not computationally expensive anymore."

Google made HTTPS non-optional for all Gmail users in January 2010 as a way to boost security after finding that the protocol required no additional hardware and consumed very few resources. "On our production frontend machines, SSL/TLS accounts for less than 1% of the CPU load, less than 10 KB of memory per connection, and less than 2% of network overhead," said Cutts.

Facebook faced criticism for not following Google's lead more quickly, especially after the arrival last year of Firesheep. Its author, Eric Butler, said he built the tool to highlight the inherent vulnerability of using Facebook on an unencrypted Wi-Fi network.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Five Emerging Security Threats - And What You Can Learn From Them
At Black Hat USA, researchers unveiled some nasty vulnerabilities. Is your organization ready?
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
Published: 2015-10-15
The Direct Rendering Manager (DRM) subsystem in the Linux kernel through 4.x mishandles requests for Graphics Execution Manager (GEM) objects, which allows context-dependent attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption) via an application that processes graphics data, as demonstrated b...

Published: 2015-10-15
netstat in IBM AIX 5.3, 6.1, and 7.1 and VIOS 2.2.x, when a fibre channel adapter is used, allows local users to gain privileges via unspecified vectors.

Published: 2015-10-15
Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) vulnerability in eXtplorer before 2.1.8 allows remote attackers to hijack the authentication of arbitrary users for requests that execute PHP code.

Published: 2015-10-15
Directory traversal vulnerability in QNAP QTS before 4.1.4 build 0910 and 4.2.x before 4.2.0 RC2 build 0910, when AFP is enabled, allows remote attackers to read or write to arbitrary files by leveraging access to an OS X (1) user or (2) guest account.

Published: 2015-10-15
Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) 1.1j allows local users to gain privileges via vectors involving addition of an SSH key, aka Bug ID CSCuw46076.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
According to industry estimates, about a million new IT security jobs will be created in the next two years but there aren't enough skilled professionals to fill them. On top of that, there isn't necessarily a clear path to a career in security. Dark Reading Executive Editor Kelly Jackson Higgins hosts guests Carson Sweet, co-founder and CTO of CloudPassage, which published a shocking study of the security gap in top US undergrad computer science programs, and Rodney Petersen, head of NIST's new National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education.