It’s Tuesday, December 12, 2017 and 38°F in Austin, Texas
Firesheep - Why you'll never want to use free open WiFi again.
Halloween may be over, but one free piece of software called Firesheep should leave you very scared if you ever use open WiFi networks like those provided at many coffee shops... The tech world has been abuzz over the recent release of a free Firefox extension that allows anyone who has installed the extension to easily see other people logging in to popular sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon over any unencrypted open WiFi connection -- and it in fact allows them to enter those accounts by simply clicking on the users' names that appear in the Firesheep sidebar.
The insecurity of open unencrypted WiFi networks has been lamented by security experts for a long time -- users of such networks were always at some risk of having their data captured and exploited by more tech savvy users with malicious intent. But most users at your local coffee shop never gave it much thought.... they should now!
Tech bloggers have been alarmed by the "ease of use" of this extension -- which essentially turns anyone with a laptop and Firefox into a potential hacker who can invade your online word -- if you access that world over unencrypted WiFi networks.
You can read more about the risks and some potential safeguards here:
People using iPhones and similar mobile devices may be particularly at risk -- as their phones may not allow them to implement potential workaround solutions to avoid this vulnerability.
The primary way to avoid this would be to only use WPA encrypted WiFi networks -- even where the network password is freely distributed to the public -- or use your mobile carrier's 3G or 4G networks.