Thursday, November 12, 2009

OWASP AppSec DC '09

I'm at OWASP AppSec DC '09 this week. If you're there too, come find me and say hi!

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Monday, October 12, 2009

csp @ stanford security seminar

I'll be giving a talk at the October 13 Stanford Security Seminar. 4:30pm in Gates 4B. Show up if you're interested in CSP or want to heckle!

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Friday, October 02, 2009

CSP Preview!

Brandon Sterne and I released a preview of Firefox with Content Security Policy features built in. There are still little bits of the specification that aren't yet ready (like HTTP redirection handling), but most of the core functionality should be there.

If you'd like to play around with this pre-release version of Firefox (very alpha, future release) that has CSP built in, download it here! You can test it out at Brandon's demo page.

In case you're not familiar with CSP, it's a content-restriction system that allows web sites to specify what other types of stuff can be embedded on their pages and where it can be loaded from. It's very similar to something called HTTP Immigration Control that I was working on in grad school, so I'm very exited to be part of the design, specification and implementation -- hopefully a big step towards securing the web.

Previously: Shutting Down XSS with Content Security Policy and CSP: With or Without Meta?

Update: The old download link expired. New one should have a much longer lifetime (here).

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Monday, August 10, 2009

force tls

A while back, Collin Jackson and Adam Barth presented this idea called ForceHTTPS. The main idea was simple, yet powerful: allow sites a way to say "in the future, ALWAYS load me via HTTPS". Why?

"Computers are increasingly mobile and, to serve them, more and more public spaces (cafes, airports, libraries, etc.) offer their customers WiFi access. When a web browser on such a network requests a resource, it is implicitly trusting the hotspot not to interfere with the communication. A malicious computer hooked up to the network could alter the traffic, however, and this can have some unpleasant consequences." [Mozilla Security Blog]

I like this force-security feature, and by suggestion from a few other interested parties, I took to implementing a slightly different version from what Jackson and Barth had done in the past. For now, I'm calling it ForceTLS, and the indicator to "always load via HTTPS" is an HTTP response header.

There's more details on my Force-TLS web site, but that's the gist of what it does. Some folks are working on a more detailed specification that hopefully will be published soon. For now, check out the add-on for Firefox, and let me know what you think!

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Monday, June 29, 2009

CSP: with or without meta?

We're working up a storm on Content Security Policy (CSP) here at Mozilla, and I've been spending a lot of time hacking out an implementation and talking with people about how CSP works. I keep coming back to sharp edges caused by allowing policies in <meta> tags. Not only does meta-tag support make implementation of CSP more difficult, but it actually also provides an additional attack surface.

What is CSP?
Quick summary of Content Security Policy: CSP lets web site authors specify a policy that locks down where the site may obtain resources as well as what types of resources may be requested. This policy is specified in an HTTP Request header or may also be specified in a meta tag. There's a great blog post by Brandon that talks about this stuff more in depth.

Enter the http-equivalent META tag.
Originally, the point of allowing policy definitions in meta tags was to gain greater flexibility and give an option to folks who can't modify HTTP headers due to web hosting restrictions. Later on, we started thinking that meta-tag-CSP would be a useful way to allow "tightening" or intersection of policies for specific segments of a web site.

The only use case that comes to my mind is a shared web hosting service. Imagine the controllers of a hosting service want to forbid embedding of Flash content from; at the same time their customers may want a more restrictive policy, but only one policy can be specified in HTTP. As a result the hosting company has three options:

  1. Let their customers override the policy (possibly removing the rule)

  2. Disallow the ability for their customers to tighten the CSP

  3. Provide some way to allow policy tightening without the possibility of loosening.

An ability to specify policies in meta tags gives way for situation 3: policy tightening. Unfortunately there are side-effects to allowing policy specification in both HTTP headers and meta tags.

Side Effects.
Implementing CSP becomes quite a bit more complex with meta tags. First, the user agent has to figure out to do when there are two conflicting policies, one in HTTP and one in meta. We solved this with an intersection algorithm that can only tighten an effective policy. Aside from conflicts, there's also the issue of parsing the meta tag out of the document appropriately before any resources subject to CSP are requested.

Allowing policy specification in a meta tag also opens up another use for successful content injection attacks: injection of an unauthorized policy. Additionally, such a policy could be used for a limited CSRF attack on the site itself through a policy-uri or report-uri directive. Of course an unauthorized "allow none" policy can effectively DoS a site, too.

Content Separation.
In the haze of thinking about meta-tag-CSP uses, I lost track of the reason CSP was HTTP header-based in the first place: to separate the content from the transmission channel and underlying policies that controls what it is for and what it can do. There's a clear advantage to this separation: it is harder to attack. Adversaries now must be able to break into the protocol level, not just the application/content. HTTP headers are way more easily hardened on the server-side than an HTML tag.

I want to eradicate meta-tag support for CSP, and all of the thorns that come with it -- policy intersection, document parsing complexity, HTML injection threats, etc -- because I don't think the relatively small gain from implementing it is worth the potential cost and risk. Is there a use (other than the hosting service use case above) that requires a meta tag CSP... and is worth the security risk and code complexity?

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

ev certs are not so ev

Last week at CanSecWest, Alex Sotirov and Mike Zusman showed how extended validity (EV) certificates don't really provide much additional help to securing a site with SSL. To sum-up a couple of their conclusions:

1. It's not hard to get a regular cert for an interesting domain.
2. An EV-certified site can load data from any other SSL-encrypted locations, regardless of the cert.
3. Rogue cert + MITM + EV-site = arbitrary attack code execution on EV-site.

It seems to me that the problem is rooted in a slight but pervasive misunderstanding of what EV certs do: they provide a more rigorous check to ensure that the entity serving data through the EV certified channel is actually who they claim to be. They don't currently give proof to a site's visitor that the site has not been compromised.

Having said that, if an attacker can prey on the way the site serves content, it doesn't matter whether or not the EV entity is actually who they claim to be; an attacker can just piggyback on their session, serving some cleverly crafted data with a rogue cert. This can be done by playing man in the middle with third-party content embedded on the EV site, or by playing tricks with the browser's cache.

Easy fix: In order to display the green bar (EV badging) require all the stuff on a web page to be served with the same EV cert. This is not attractive for many reasons, including ad syndication and distributed content serving -- both highly desirable uses may cross the fully-qualified domain border and thus require non-EV certs or multiple different EV certs. (EV certs are not allowed to have wildcard domain matching, so any difference in domain name will cause the cert to be invalid).

A more desirable fix, in my opinion, will take a look at the problem from a base level and figure out why EV breaks in these mixed-content or mixed-cert scenarios--then fix EV. The EV cert says "trust my subject at" What we really need is a way to say "trust this site."

More to come.

Cheers to Sotirov and Zusman for this excellent discovery and PoC man-in-the-middle script.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

where should web policies be enforced?

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about context-based security decisions lately. These are decisions made on behalf of a website (or its users) in order to maintain data integrity and secrecy. Take for instance the issues of CSRF and Clickjacking; both of these attacks involve some sort of contextual manipulation. CSRF is a HTTP request generated by an untrustworthy source and Clickjacking is data theft by overlaying forms (etc).

There are many approaches to stop these things... but on whose shoulders should the policy enforcement lie? Should a web browser be in charge of making sites safe, or should it just be an enabler that provides enough information to a server so it can make appropriate decisions?

CSRF can be stopped by the browser, but in a fairly convoluted way. It's tough for a web browser to discern which requests will cause a significant transaction on the web server. For example, the simple request

GET /profile/

could be enough to trash someone's account on a server. Even some POST requests don't cause internal state changes (imagine a currency conversion calculator or a POST-based language translator form). It seems a bit easier to stop CSRF on the server where the application itself can decide whether or not to trust each request. This requires the browser, however, to provide some information about the request such as where it came from (but HTTP-Referrer is not reliable) or how it came (such as whether it was from an image tag, etc).

Clickjacking is more easily approached on the client side. One approach is to make an impenetrable fence around certain special frames where any outer/parent frames can't layer stuff on top of their children. This frame-firewall approach is not always attractive, so maybe there should be some mechanism that allows the server to say "hey, this is sensitive, don't overlay this content I'm serving." Then again, maybe it would be ideal to just tell the server a bit about where the content will be rendered, and let the server decide whether or not to serve data.

But what both Clickjacking and CSRF have in common is that they leverage contextual blindness that many web applications have -- they're not aware of where requests come from or where there responses end up.

It seems clear that we can't rely on just a browser-side or server-side fix for these types of things, and instead we need to have some sort of cooperation. The question remains, however, who should do the bulk of the enforcement. I'm currently leaning towards using the browser as a context-revealing tool and leaving enforcement and policy decisions up to the server, but there's many times when that's not enough to stop client-side attacks.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

drive-by pharming

If you have not set a hard-to-guess password on your broadband router, do it now. There's a way attackers can compromise your router from the inside using simple JavaScript.

The basic idea is this: you visit a malicious website and it distracts you. While you're distracted (playing a game, reading news, etc), it runs JavaScript code to scan your internal network and identify the IP address of your router. Once discovered, the malicious script can send "reconfiguration requests" to the router to attempt setting the DNS server your network uses. If successful, all DNS queries can be directed through an attacker's server, thus Pharming you. For technical details, please see our tech report, but in brief this attack is not complex.

The solution: make your router's admin password hard to guess.

I recently developed this with Zulfikar Ramzan from Symantec, who forwarded to my advisor (Markus) an interesting Black Hat talk by Jeremiah Grossman. Markus in turn forwarded to me and that's when it struck me that we could similarly mount a pharming attack without playing man-in-the-middle - all it takes is a tweak of the router's DNS server setting, and a whole home network is pharmed. Coupled with the idea that roughly 50% of broadband routers still use the default password, this attack affects a whole lot of people.

Symantec PR picked up on what we did, and issued a press release today:
(Symantec Press Release)

Read More:
(Zully's Blog Post)
(Tech Report)

Select Media Coverage:
(Google aggregate)
(Info World -- IDG article)
( -- amusing comments thread)
(Washington Post Blog)
(Red Herring)
(Computer World)

Update (16-Feb-07 9:30am ET): The story got picked up by Forbes ad the Washington Post, and the Google News index on "Drive-by Pharming" is roughly fifty-something.

My Favorite Headlines:
Researchers highlight a router route to pharming
New Drive-By Attack Taking Over Home Routers
Broadband routers welcome drive-by hackers
Change Your Router Password NOW!

Update (16-Feb-07 10:30am ET): Slashdot picked it up.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

bad security assumption

Good assumption:
My domain (DNS) name is not safe from forgery. Bad people might "hijack" it and use it to pretend they are me.

Bad assumption:
If my domain name is hijacked or spoofed, then I lose control of all the subdomains too. This means that if someone else pretends to be then they will also take control over, and

Bad: DNS spoofing is done on the record level, and since each subdomain happens to be a different record, an attacker might control one subdomain and let you retain control over the rest.

Consequence of this: The same-origin policy enforced by most browsers says this: scripts served by one host cannot access, execute or change data served by another host. In this case and are considered different hosts.

There is one exception to the rule: a website may change its "document.domain" property to a suffix of what it currently might be. For example, a page served by may set its domain to AFTER it is served. In this case, can play with's data.

Your data is no longer safe, unless you control all of your subdomains. The case used to be simpler: a phisher or pharmer must create a complete duplicate of a site to fool with it. Now, he just creates a parasite frame, and watches you interact with the real thing. Beware of visiting


(Link to Abe Fettig's explanation)
(Link to Same-Origin Policy info)

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