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BlackSheep Sounds Alarm Against Firesheep

Zscaler tool alerts users when it detects Firesheep, because the latter has made it easy to steal identities over a shared network.

Jim Rapoza

November 9, 2010

2 Min Read

The recently released Firesheep tool, available as a Firefox extension, was designed to shine a light on the problem of websites that don’t protect user accounts from being hijacked and stolen when on insecure networks, such as public WiFi hotspots.

We can safely say "mission accomplished," as Firesheep has received lots of attention, and has even gotten the government interested in the risks that these improperly secured sites represent to user privacy and security.

Unfortunately, Firesheep has also put a free and easy-to-use tool in the hands of wannabe bad-guy hackers who previously lack the technical savvy to exploit these security holes. Luckily, whenever a security problem receives lots of public attention, a security firm will jump into the fray with a potential solution. And one of the first of these solutions is BlackSheep, also now freely available as a Firefox extension. BlackSheep, from security firm Zscaler, is as easy to use and install as Firesheep itself; in fact, it shares much of the same codebase as Firesheep.

However, to call BlackSheep a full solution to the Firesheep problem would be going too far. Basically, BlackSheep is an alarm. If you have BlackSheep installed on your system and someone else on your shared network is running Firesheep, BlackSheep will pop up an alarm that it has detected Firesheep on the network. That’s it.

Not that this functionality is unwelcome. Knowledge is power, and knowing that someone is running Firesheep will empower the BlackSheep user to make sure that he either securely accesses any sensitive sites (in my book, that means any site that requires a login) or not access these sites at all while on the compromised network. Still, this is hardly a complete solution. While BlackSheep was able to detect when I ran Firesheep on the same network, it didn’t seem to notice when I also ran a more traditional network sniffer on the same network.

I also ran into trouble getting BlackSheep running -- until I figured out that it, like Firesheep, required the additional installation of the WinCap libraries on Windows. If you use public networks a lot and are worried that someone might be using Firesheep to steal your info, there is nothing wrong with running Blacksheep.

But the only real solution is to make sure your connections stay secure, either by using a VPN connection or by only accessing sensitive sites that enable an SSL connection throughout the entire web session.

About the Author(s)

Jim Rapoza

Contributor

Jim Rapoza is Senior Research Analyst at the Aberdeen Group and Editorial Director for Tech Pro Essentials. For over 20 years he has been using, testing, and writing about the newest technologies in software, enterprise hardware, and the Internet. He previously served as the director of an award-winning technology testing lab based in Massachusetts and California. Rapoza is also the winner of five awards of excellence in technology journalism, and co-chaired a summit on technology industry security practices. He is a frequent speaker at technology conferences and expositions and has been regularly interviewed as a technology expert by national and local media outlets including CNN, ABC, NPR, and the Associated Press.

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