All posts tagged ‘EFF’

File Under: Browsers, Security

Secure Firefox With New HTTPS Everywhere Add-on

Earlier this year, the Firefox add-on Firesheep created quite a controversy by making it easy to capture unencrypted web traffic.

Firesheep sniffs unencrypted cookies sent across open wi-fi networks. That means anyone with Firesheep installed can watch your browsing sessions while you lounge at Starbucks and grab your log-in credentials for Facebook, Twitter or other popular sites. Armed with those credentials, anyone using Firesheep can essentially masquerade as you all over the web, logging in to other social sites, blogs and news sites using your Facebook or Twitter username and password.

None of Firesheep’s mechanisms are new. But Firesheep made sniffing web traffic point-and-click simple — it was suddenly dead easy to do something that used to require a good bit of hacking knowledge.

The best way to protect yourself from Firesheep is simply avoid connecting to unencrypted sites when you’re on an open wi-fi network. That means making sure that you connect over HTTPS rather than HTTP everywhere you surf. But sadly, doing so is complicated and depends on which site you’re trying to connect to.

That’s where the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s HTTPS Everywhere Firefox add-on comes in. The extension makes it easy to ensure you’re connecting to secure sites by rewriting all requests to an HTTPS URL whenever you visit one of the sites it supports.

Of course if the website you’d like to visit doesn’t support HTTPS, there’s nothing the add-on can do, but for many big sites — Twitter, Facebook, Google, PayPal, The New York Times,, Amazon — HTTPS Everywhere automates the process for you.

With HTTPS Everywhere installed, if you type “” in the Firefox URL bar, the browser will automatically connect to rather than

That’s a good start, but it won’t completely protect you from anyone sniffing with Firesheep. The latest beta release of HTTPS Everywhere, released over the long weekend, improves the add-on’s protection against Firesheep, but you’ll need to do some extra stuff.

First, head the HTTPS Everywhere preferences (Tools -> Add Ons -> HTTPS Everywhere -> Preferences) and check the “Facebook+” rule. Then install the Adblock Plus extension and use it to block the insecure http:// advertisements and tracking sites that Facebook (and other sites) sometimes include. There are more instructions on the EFF’s site.

Now you can browse Facebook at the coffee shop in relative peace. Certain parts of Facebook may not work properly — some applications can’t use HTTPS, and the chat app won’t work — but at least you aren’t broadcasting your login credentials to anyone who wants to listen. The EFF says it has alerted Facebook to the incompatibilities, and that it’s waiting for Facebook to fix them.

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File Under: Identity, Security

EFF Reveals How Your Digital Fingerprint Makes You Easy to Track

Think that turning off cookies and turning on private browsing makes you invisible on the web? Think again.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has launched a new web app dubbed Panopticlick that reveals just how scarily easy it is to identify you out of millions of web users.

The problem is your digital fingerprint. Whenever you visit a site, your browser and any plug-ins you have installed can leak data. Some of it isn’t very personal, like your user agent string. Some of it is more personally revealing, like which fonts you have installed. But the what if you put it all together? Would the results make you identifiable?

As the EFF says, “this information can create a kind of fingerprint — a signature that could be used to identify you and your computer.”

The EFF’s test suite highlights what most of us probably already suspect — we’re readily identifiable on the web. We ran the test on a Mac using Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome, all of which leaked enough data to make us identifiable according the EFF’s privacy explanations.

The purpose of Panopticlick is to show you how much you have in common with other browsers. The more your configuration mirrors everyone else’s, the harder it would be to identify you. The irony is, the nerdier you are — using a unique OS, a less common browser, customizing your browser with plug-ins and other power-user habits — the more identifiable you are.

For example, say you’re running Firefox on Ubuntu with the Gnash plug-in instead of Flash — way to stick it to the man — but you’re also showing up with a unique configuration of browser, OS, installed fonts, plug-ins and more which can be combined to identify you via a unique online fingerprint.

So what can you do to make yourself less identifiable? Well, by disabling cookies, the Flash plug-in, the Java plug-in and most of our extensions we were able to blend in better. Actually, the fact that we didn’t have Java or Flash turned on made us more identifiable in those categories, but it also denied the test access to our installed fonts and other bits of data, so overall, less identifiable.

Obviously that approach has a downside — without Flash there’s not much in the way of online video, a lack of cookies will cause issues with logins, and without Java, you won’t be able to crash your browser or cause it to get hung up for hours.

In short, the disabling method isn’t much fun. Strange though it may seem, the best way to lose the unique online fingerprint is to blend in with the herd. As the EFF points out, mobile browsers are hardest to identify since there are few customization options and, for the most part, one version of Mobile Safari looks just like another.

By the same token, if you want to blend in, stick with stock system fonts, run Windows XP, use Firefox with no add-ons and turn off cookies. You’ll be much harder to identify.

We should point out that, no matter how well you blend in the fingerprint test, you are of course still identifiable by your ISP. Advertisers and websites generally can’t access the information your ISP has on you, but of course governments — with the cooperation of your ISP — always can. So don’t think just because you’ve eliminated your fingerprints no one knows who you are.

Front door photo: Brian Lane Winfield Moore/Flickr (CC)

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