Facebook introduces secure browsing feature

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Facebook on Wednesday announced a new security feature designed to deter attackers from snooping on users who browse the social networking site via public wireless networks.

Beginning Wednesday, users can now browse Facebook over "HTTPS," an encrypted protocol that prevents the unauthorized hijacking of private sessions and data.

"Facebook currently uses HTTPS whenever your password is sent to us, but today we're expanding its usage in order to help keep your data even more secure," wrote Alex Rice, a security engineer, on the Facebook blog."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 500-million member site was spurred on to add the security feature last fall when a researcher unveiled a Firefox plug-in, known as Firesheep, that permits anyone to scan open Wi-Fi networks and hijack, for example, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Facebook plans to roll out the secure connection option to users over the next several weeks, Rice said. He did warn, though, that using HTTPS may cause pages to load at a slower rate and that some third-party applications may not be compatible with the protocol.

At some point, HTTPS will be offered as a default setting to all users. Google announced a similar initiative for its Gmail service roughly a year ago.

News of the new capability comes on the same day as a hacker gained access to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's fan page to leave a bizarre comment, apparently political in nature, according to security firm Websense.

The comment, attributed to Zuckerberg, said: "Let the hacking begin: if facebook needs money, instead of going to the banks, why doesn't Facebook let its users invest in Facebook in a social way. Why not transform Facebook into a 'social business' the way Nobel Price (sic) winner Muhammad Yunus described it?"

The post included a link to a Wikipedia page defining the term "social business." The Time Person of the Year's fan page, which has millions of followers, remains down.

Facebook on Wednesday also introduced a new control that will prompt users to identify tagged friends in photos if the site detects suspicious account activity.

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