Helping you balance your online life

Jul 3rd


Appalling Danger If You Use Public WiFi

The next time you fire up your laptop or iPad in a coffee shop, beware. Someone may be watching you--more closely than you ever imagined.Aol
A Firefox add-on called Firesheep allows anyone to see exactly what you're seeing on your computer--and even get full access to your Facebook, Amazon or Goo
gle account. It's high-tech hijacking. reports that both Macs and PCs are vulnerable to the software that allows anyone to view and click on the screens of anyone else sharing the same network in a public place.

Bottom line: If you use your laptop in Starbucks, you could automatically grant full access to anyone else in the place to everything you're doing.

"Not only can they see what you're doing, but if, for instance, you're on Facebook, they can literally click on your name and enter your Facebook account or Amazon account or Google account," says WTOP Tech Guy Gregg Stebben, "and in a sense, become you and begin to do things in your name." He adds, "I'm very leery (of public WiFi) and really we all should be."

What is Firesheep? Seattle-based software developer David Butler, who is not a criminal hacker, released it to force big Web sites, such as Facebook and Google, to clean up the security risk. "He has been well aware for many years of this safety flaw and released this software because he wanted people to start using it," says WTOP's Stebben. "He wanted people like us to start to talk about it, because he believed it would put pressure on [those] Web sites."

To be secure, Web sites must change their URLs so they begin with "https."

Firesheep only works on public networks. Your password-protected home and work WiFi are safe, as are all Web sites that begin with "https," including banks and financial sites." The biggest risk here is being in public places where lots of people are accessing the WiFi network, and [it] just increases the likelihood someone would be taking advantage of this thing and spying on you," says Stebben.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Stebben offers the following advice:
  • Don't use public wireless networks. It's just not worth the risk.
  • If you must use the public WiFi, be very careful when choosing which sites you visit so you can better protect your personal and financial information. Still, Stebben warns that anytime you log on with a user name and password, you're probably exposing some personal information you wouldn't want divulged.
  • Pay for a mobile broadband card that provides personal wireless access that is not part of a public network.

--Originally published by the Editors of Netscape