Firefox add-on allows session hijacking of popular sites

Share this article:
A computer researcher has released a plug-in for the Firefox web browser that lets anyone scan open Wi-Fi networks and hijack, for example, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The add on, called “Firesheep,” was released Sunday at the ToorCon security conference in San Diego by Eric Butler, a Seattle-based web application and software developer.

Butler designed the add-on to highlight the danger of accessing unencrypted websites via public Wi-Fi networks, he wrote in a blog post Sunday.

Websites commonly protect users' passwords by encrypting the initial login, Butler said. However, many popular sites – including Facebook and Twitter – do not use end-to-end HTTPS or SSL encryption to safeguard sessions, leaving them vulnerable to an attack known as "HTTP session hijacking," which allows an attacker to obtain a user's cookie to take over their account. 

“This is a widely known problem that has been talked about to death, yet very popular websites continue to fail at protecting their users,” Butler wrote.

Facebook, for example, has not implemented end-to-end SSL or HTTPS encryption, according to Butler.

A Facebook spokesman told SCMagazineUS.com in an email Tuesday that users should be cautious when sending or receiving information over unsecured Wi-Fi networks. 

“We have been making progress testing SSL access across Facebook and hope to provide it as an option in the coming months,” the spokesman said.

Firesheep adds a sidebar to Firefox that can be used to connect to an open Wi-Fi network, Butler explained. Once connected, the extension displays the name and photo of anyone on the network who visits an unsecured website.

“Double-click on someone, and you're instantly logged in as them,” he wrote.

The add-on has been downloaded more than 177,000 times since it became available Sunday. It also has ranked as a "trending" topic on Twitter and Google.

Butler said he hopes the new add-on will encourage websites to take security more seriously.

“Websites have a responsibility to protect the people who depend on their services,” he wrote. “They've been ignoring this responsibility for too long, and it's time for everyone to demand a more secure web. My hope is that Firesheep will help the users win."

Share this article:

Sign up to our newsletters

More in News

Brazilian president signs internet 'Bill of Rights' into law

Brazilian president signs internet 'Bill of Rights' into ...

President Dilma Rousseff signed the legislation on Wednesday at the NetMundial conference in Sao Paulo.

Android trojan sends premium SMS messages, targets U.S. users for first time

Android trojan sends premium SMS messages, targets U.S. ...

An SMS trojan for Android, known as FakeInst, has been observed sending premium SMS messages to users all over the world, including, for the first time, the United States.

Report: DDoS up in Q4 2013, vulnerability scanners leveraged to exploit sites

Report: DDoS up in Q4 2013, vulnerability scanners ...

Researchers observed 346 DDoS attacks in the final quarter of 2013 and attackers used Vega and Skipfish vulnerability scanners to exploit web flaws at financial companies.