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Facebook offers 500 million users SSL crypto

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Facebook is giving all users the option of accessing its social networking service via SSL encryption.

The move comes a day after pranksters hacked into the Facebook page of CEO Mark Zuckerberg and less than a month after the company reportedly turned on SSL encryption for anyone viewing the site inside Tunisia, where malicious code was apparently pilfering the login details of users critical of the local government.

"Facebook currently uses HTTPS whenever your password is sent to us, but today we're expanding its usage in order to help keep your data even more secure," the company said Wednesday in a blog post. "Starting today we'll provide you with the ability to experience Facebook entirely over HTTPS. You should consider enabling this option if you frequently use Facebook from public Internet access points found at coffee shops, airports, libraries or schools."

Facebook says that the new tool will be rolled out "slowly" over the next few weeks. Once it's available to you, you can turn on your HTTP connection by visiting the "Account Security" section of Facebook's Account Settings page.

The move was praised by several prominent voices across the web. "Facebook now allows HTTPS/SSL all the time on FB," tweeted über-Googler Matt Cutts. "Huge props to FB! Everyone turn it on! Please."

But that's the rub. Users are required to turn it on themselves. Ideally, Facebook should turn HTTPS on by default. But it can save cash by merely making it an option, knowing that only a small portion of users will actually flip the switch.

Google automatically turns on SSL encryption for all Gmail users, and it offers HTTPS as an option with its search engine and various other services. Microsoft is offering SSL as an option with Hotmail – though it may not work in tandem with complementary tools such as Redmond Outlook Hotmail Connector and Windows Live Mail. Yahoo! and MySpace have yet offer always-on HTTPS, even as an option.

With today's blog post, the company also introduced what it calls "social authentication". If Facebook suspects your account has been compromised, it may show you pictures of your online friends and ask you to identify them.

"Instead of showing you a traditional captcha on Facebook, one of the ways we may help verify your identity is through social authentication. We will show you a few pictures of your friends and ask you to name the person in those photos. Hackers halfway across the world might know your password, but they don't know who your friends are," the company said. ®

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