Last week, on Facebook, scores of people used their status updates to tell virtual friends to switch the Internet protocol default on their homepage from HTTP to the more secure HTTPS. Sunday Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) joined the crowd.

Schumer called for major web operators to create and use secure online addresses to protect public Wi-Fi network users who he said would otherwise be vulnerable to hackers.

Schumer's solution is for major Web companies to switch their default home pages from the HTTP protocol to the more secure HTTPS. Many companies already offer the HTTPS protocol, which typically comes with a small padlock icon, but users must adjust it manually.

"Wireless is spreading everywhere, at coffee shops and in the waiting rooms at airports," Schumer said. "But new companies have come up and made it very easy to steal information."

Using the more secure connection can slow web surfing, Schumer acknowledged, but he said the security benefits are too important. Surfers, he said, wouldn't know someone is accessing their data and can't be expected to protect themselves.


"The bottom line here is it's sort of a welcome map for hackers," he said. "They're becoming identity thieves either for profit or prurience."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes responded in an e-mail, "Just last month, we announced the ability for users to experience Facebook entirely over HTTPS and we encourage people to consider enabling this option if they frequently use Facebook from public Internet access points."

Schumer released a letter he planned to send Monday to Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and eight other Web companies. Representatives for the others three companies did not respond.