In light of the FireSheep controversy, Digital Society has conducted a study that explains key vulnerabilities in Twitter, Facebook, Hotmail, Flickr, and other popular websites.
Riding off of the coattails of the FireSheep Firefox exploit, Digital Society has studied the basic security functions of 11 popular websites and given them grades. The results are not stellar for most, especially social networking sites Twitter and Facebook, which both received failing grades.
The reasons why they failed get quite technical, but center around the lack of full SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) protection on the sites. One easy way to know if you are on an SSL protected site is if your browser bar says “https://” instead of the standard “http://.” If you are not, then it is possible that your information could be stolen because it is not encrypted. Facebook and Twitter do not encrypt data all the time, a feature that they should implement.
There are four basic ways to get hacked (studied here)
If a site doesn’t have SSL browsing support, anyone can see what you’re browsing at any time, but only what you’re browsing currently.
In a partial sidejacking, an attacker gets a hold of a users authentication cookies and gains partial access to their account. An authentication cookie is a small file that sites on your computer, allowing you to revisit a website without re-logging in every time. It tells Facebook: “hey, I’m still the same computer; let me in.” In a partial sidejacking, some of your information is visible to the attacker, but he/she can’t entirely breach your account.
In a full sidejacking, the attacker gets full control over your account, but can’t get your username or password. Usually he/she can do everything except change the password because most sites request that you re-type the old password first. Full sidejacking is scary. In Hotmail, for example, an attacker would be able to read all of your emails.
Finally, in a full hijacking, the attacker gains control over everything in your account and can change anything, including your password. Sites that do not have SSL authentication leave you vulnerable to a full hijacking.
Our best advice: be careful where you browse Facebook, Twitter, and other sites with logins. If you’re on public Wi-Fi spot, make sure that it is password protected. This should encrypt your information, making it more difficult for others to hack you.