According to the New York Times article “New Hacking Tools Pose Bigger Threats to Wi-Fi Users,” hacking one’s personal information is easier than one may think. A new, free program called Firesheep now allows people to see what other users of an unsecured Wi-Fi network are doing and then log on as them at the sites they visited. This program grabs Web browser’s cookies, bits of code that identifies your computer, and is able to get your settings and other private information from the site. This allows users to be you on the site and have full access to your account.
The scary thing about this program is that it is so easy to use, and general members of the public are not taking precautions to protect themselves. Firesheep is more popular than people may think, more than a million people have downloaded the program in the past three months. Fortunately, sites that employ the cryptographic protocol Transport Layer Security are safe from the snoopers. PayPal and many banks use this feature, but most other sites that people trust with their information to do use this privacy safeguard. Web sites state that they do no encrypt all of their information because it will slow down the site and carries a large expense.
To protect yourself, change the Service Set Identifier or SSID of your wireless network from the default name to something less predictable. It is also recommended that people not use public Wi-Fi. I think it is important for the public to have knowledge of such programs and to take the proper precautions necessary to avoid identity theft.