Twitter joins Google to add HTTPS by default to protect users’ privacy – leaving Facebook to make the move
Twitter has enabled secure hypertext transfer protocol (HTTPS) for all its users, which now means that traffic on the social networking site is encrypted and there is more protection against potential man-in-the-middle attacks.
Less than a year after Twitter introduced the privacy-friendly option on its settings page, the microblogging site has turned on HTTPS by default for all users, the company said. Users still have the option to turn off HTTPS through the Account Settings page.
Coffee shop cookie protection
Users who connect to unsecured WiFi networks, such as public hotspots in a coffee shop or a hotel lobby, run the risk of having their Web information intercepted by malicious attackers. If the Website the user is accessing does not encrypt the connection with HTTPS, then anyone monitoring the connection can use readily-available network sniffing tools to read the contents of a session cookie or see the contents of the Website being transferred. Attackers who can see the session cookie can impersonate those users.
“HTTPS is one of the best ways to keep your account safe, and it will only get better as we continue to improve HTTPS support on our Web and mobile clients,” the company wrote in a message to its users.
HTTPS keeps the session cookie encrypted throughout the log-in session, preventing the information from being intercepted.
Twitter first rolled out the option to users last March, but was roundly criticised by privacy experts for keeping HTTPS turned off by default. Only the most privacy-conscious and “paranoid” people were likely to go into Account Settings and turn it on, according to Christopher Soghoian, a Washington, D.C.-based security and privacy researcher. Companies know users are not likely to turn on settings, especially for things they may not really understand much about, he told attendees at the Kaspersky Lab Security Analyst Summit, which took place earlier this month.
Considering that readily available tools such as Firesheep have made it very easy for anyone to be able to sniff cookies for anyone surfing close by on a public WiFi network, companies need to consider privacy by default, according to privacy advocates such as Soghoian. Firesheep highlighted how much data is being leaked online and how users need to be protected.
Google was the first company to allow users to turn on HTTPS for its Gmail service, and offered users the option to do search from a secure page. It was not until 2010 when malicious outsiders managed to intercept Gmail log-in information that the company turned on HTTPS by default for its mail service. When it launched its social networking platform Google+, HTTPS was turned on from the start.
Around the time Twitter initially added HTTPS, Facebook added the option to its social networking site. Like all the other companies, Facebook also chose to bury the setting deep in its security pages and turned it off by default. It is still disabled by default for most users, and even when the user manually turns on HTTPS, Facebook says it will be used “when possible”. For example, even if a user has turned on HTTPS, Facebook will switch to the unencrypted connection when running many of the apps.
“We look forward to the time when Facebook feels it’s ready to enable HTTPS/SSL by default, and use it throughout users’ time on the site,” Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos, wrote on the Naked Security blog.