Tag Archives: browsers

Exploiting Mistyped URLs

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2024/06/exploiting-mistyped-urls.html

Interesting research: “Hyperlink Hijacking: Exploiting Erroneous URL Links to Phantom Domains“:

Abstract: Web users often follow hyperlinks hastily, expecting them to be correctly programmed. However, it is possible those links contain typos or other mistakes. By discovering active but erroneous hyperlinks, a malicious actor can spoof a website or service, impersonating the expected content and phishing private information. In “typosquatting,” misspellings of common domains are registered to exploit errors when users mistype a web address. Yet, no prior research has been dedicated to situations where the linking errors of web publishers (i.e. developers and content contributors) propagate to users. We hypothesize that these “hijackable hyperlinks” exist in large quantities with the potential to generate substantial traffic. Analyzing large-scale crawls of the web using high-performance computing, we show the web currently contains active links to more than 572,000 dot-com domains that have never been registered, what we term ‘phantom domains.’ Registering 51 of these, we see 88% of phantom domains exceeding the traffic of a control domain, with up to 10 times more visits. Our analysis shows that these links exist due to 17 common publisher error modes, with the phantom domains they point to free for anyone to purchase and exploit for under $20, representing a low barrier to entry for potential attackers.

Class-Action Lawsuit against Google’s Incognito Mode

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2024/04/class-action-lawsuit-against-googles-incognito-mode.html

The lawsuit has been settled:

Google has agreed to delete “billions of data records” the company collected while users browsed the web using Incognito mode, according to documents filed in federal court in San Francisco on Monday. The agreement, part of a settlement in a class action lawsuit filed in 2020, caps off years of disclosures about Google’s practices that shed light on how much data the tech giant siphons from its users­—even when they’re in private-browsing mode.

Under the terms of the settlement, Google must further update the Incognito mode “splash page” that appears anytime you open an Incognito mode Chrome window after previously updating it in January. The Incognito splash page will explicitly state that Google collects data from third-party websites “regardless of which browsing or browser mode you use,” and stipulate that “third-party sites and apps that integrate our services may still share information with Google,” among other changes. Details about Google’s private-browsing data collection must also appear in the company’s privacy policy.

I was an expert witness for the prosecution (that’s the class, against Google). I don’t know if my declarations and deposition will become public.

An Untrustworthy TLS Certificate in Browsers

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2022/11/an-untrustworthy-tls-certificate-in-browsers.html

The major browsers natively trust a whole bunch of certificate authorities, and some of them are really sketchy:

Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari, nonprofit Firefox and others allow the company, TrustCor Systems, to act as what’s known as a root certificate authority, a powerful spot in the internet’s infrastructure that guarantees websites are not fake, guiding users to them seamlessly.

The company’s Panamanian registration records show that it has the identical slate of officers, agents and partners as a spyware maker identified this year as an affiliate of Arizona-based Packet Forensics, which public contracting records and company documents show has sold communication interception services to U.S. government agencies for more than a decade.


In the earlier spyware matter, researchers Joel Reardon of the University of Calgary and Serge Egelman of the University of California at Berkeley found that a Panamanian company, Measurement Systems, had been paying developers to include code in a variety of innocuous apps to record and transmit users’ phone numbers, email addresses and exact locations. They estimated that those apps were downloaded more than 60 million times, including 10 million downloads of Muslim prayer apps.

Measurement Systems’ website was registered by Vostrom Holdings, according to historic domain name records. Vostrom filed papers in 2007 to do business as Packet Forensics, according to Virginia state records. Measurement Systems was registered in Virginia by Saulino, according to another state filing.

More details by Reardon.

Cory Doctorow does a great job explaining the context and the general security issues.

EDITED TO ADD (11/10): Slashdot thread.

Leaking Passwords through the Spellchecker

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2022/09/leaking-passwords-through-the-spellchecker.html

Sometimes browser spellcheckers leak passwords:

When using major web browsers like Chrome and Edge, your form data is transmitted to Google and Microsoft, respectively, should enhanced spellcheck features be enabled.

Depending on the website you visit, the form data may itself include PII­—including but not limited to Social Security Numbers (SSNs)/Social Insurance Numbers (SINs), name, address, email, date of birth (DOB), contact information, bank and payment information, and so on.

The solution is to only use the spellchecker options that keep the data on your computer—and don’t send it into the cloud.

Facebook Is Now Encrypting Links to Prevent URL Stripping

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2022/07/facebook-is-now-encrypting-links-to-prevent-url-stripping.html

Some sites, including Facebook, add parameters to the web address for tracking purposes. These parameters have no functionality that is relevant to the user, but sites rely on them to track users across pages and properties.

Mozilla introduced support for URL stripping in Firefox 102, which it launched in June 2022. Firefox removes tracking parameters from web addresses automatically, but only in private browsing mode or when the browser’s Tracking Protection feature is set to strict. Firefox users may enable URL stripping in all Firefox modes, but this requires manual configuration. Brave Browser strips known tracking parameters from web addresses as well.

Facebook has responded by encrypting the entire URL into a single ciphertext blob.

Since it is no longer possible to identify the tracking part of the web address, it is no longer possible to remove it from the address automatically. In other words: Facebook has the upper hand in regards to URL-based tracking at the time, and there is little that can be done about it short of finding a way to decrypt the information.

New Browser De-anonymization Technique

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2022/07/new-browser-de-anonymization-technique.html

Researchers have a new way to de-anonymize browser users, by correlating their behavior on one account with their behavior on another:

The findings, which NJIT researchers will present at the Usenix Security Symposium in Boston next month, show how an attacker who tricks someone into loading a malicious website can determine whether that visitor controls a particular public identifier, like an email address or social media account, thus linking the visitor to a piece of potentially personal data.

When you visit a website, the page can capture your IP address, but this doesn’t necessarily give the site owner enough information to individually identify you. Instead, the hack analyzes subtle features of a potential target’s browser activity to determine whether they are logged into an account for an array of services, from YouTube and Dropbox to Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and more. Plus the attacks work against every major browser, including the anonymity-focused Tor Browser.


“Let’s say you have a forum for underground extremists or activists, and a law enforcement agency has covertly taken control of it,” Curtmola says. “They want to identify the users of this forum but can’t do this directly because the users use pseudonyms. But let’s say that the agency was able to also gather a list of Facebook accounts who are suspected to be users of this forum. They would now be able to correlate whoever visits the forum with a specific Facebook identity.”

Is Microsoft Stealing People’s Bookmarks?

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/11/is-microsoft-stealing-peoples-bookmarks.html

I received email from two people who told me that Microsoft Edge enabled synching without warning or consent, which means that Microsoft sucked up all of their bookmarks. Of course they can turn synching off, but it’s too late.

Has this happened to anyone else, or was this user error of some sort? If this is real, can some reporter write about it?

(Not that “user error” is a good justification. Any system where making a simple mistake means that you’ve forever lost your privacy isn’t a good one. We see this same situation with sharing contact lists with apps on smartphones. Apps will repeatedly ask, and only need you to accidentally click “okay” once.)

EDITED TO ADD: It’s actually worse than I thought. Edge urges users to store passwords, ID numbers, and even passport numbers, all of which get uploaded to Microsoft by default when synch is enabled.

Browser Tracking Using Favicons

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2021/02/browser-tracking-using-favicons.html

Interesting research on persistent web tracking using favicons. (For those who don’t know, favicons are those tiny icons that appear in browser tabs next to the page name.)

Abstract: The privacy threats of online tracking have garnered considerable attention in recent years from researchers and practitioners alike. This has resulted in users becoming more privacy-cautious and browser vendors gradually adopting countermeasures to mitigate certain forms of cookie-based and cookie-less tracking. Nonetheless, the complexity and feature-rich nature of modern browsers often lead to the deployment of seemingly innocuous functionality that can be readily abused by adversaries. In this paper we introduce a novel tracking mechanism that misuses a simple yet ubiquitous browser feature: favicons. In more detail, a website can track users across browsing sessions by storing a tracking identifier as a set of entries in the browser’s dedicated favicon cache, where each entry corresponds to a specific subdomain. In subsequent user visits the website can reconstruct the identifier by observing which favicons are requested by the browser while the user is automatically and rapidly redirected through a series of subdomains. More importantly, the caching of favicons in modern browsers exhibits several unique characteristics that render this tracking vector particularly powerful, as it is persistent (not affected by users clearing their browser data), non-destructive (reconstructing the identifier in subsequent visits does not alter the existing combination of cached entries), and even crosses the isolation of the incognito mode. We experimentally evaluate several aspects of our attack, and present a series of optimization techniques that render our attack practical. We find that combining our favicon-based tracking technique with immutable browser-fingerprinting attributes that do not change over time allows a website to reconstruct a 32-bit tracking identifier in 2 seconds. Furthermore,our attack works in all major browsers that use a favicon cache, including Chrome and Safari. Due to the severity of our attack we propose changes to browsers’ favicon caching behavior that can prevent this form of tracking, and have disclosed our findings to browser vendors who are currently exploring appropriate mitigation strategies.

Another researcher has implemented this proof of concept:

Strehle has set up a website that demonstrates how easy it is to track a user online using a favicon. He said it’s for research purposes, has released his source code online, and detailed a lengthy explanation of how supercookies work on his website.

The scariest part of the favicon vulnerability is how easily it bypasses traditional methods people use to keep themselves private online. According to Strehle, the supercookie bypasses the “private” mode of Chrome, Safari, Edge, and Firefox. Clearing your cache, surfing behind a VPN, or using an ad-blocker won’t stop a malicious favicon from tracking you.

Identifying People by Their Browsing Histories

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2020/08/identifying_peo_9.html

Interesting paper: “Replication: Why We Still Can’t Browse in Peace: On the Uniqueness and Reidentifiability of Web Browsing Histories“:

We examine the threat to individuals’ privacy based on the feasibility of reidentifying users through distinctive profiles of their browsing history visible to websites and third parties. This work replicates and extends the 2012 paper Why Johnny Can’t Browse in Peace: On the Uniqueness of Web Browsing History Patterns[48]. The original work demonstrated that browsing profiles are highly distinctive and stable.We reproduce those results and extend the original work to detail the privacy risk posed by the aggregation of browsing histories. Our dataset consists of two weeks of browsing data from ~52,000 Firefox users. Our work replicates the original paper’s core findings by identifying 48,919 distinct browsing profiles, of which 99% are unique. High uniqueness hold seven when histories are truncated to just 100 top sites. Wethen find that for users who visited 50 or more distinct do-mains in the two-week data collection period, ~50% can be reidentified using the top 10k sites. Reidentifiability rose to over 80% for users that browsed 150 or more distinct domains.Finally, we observe numerous third parties pervasive enough to gather web histories sufficient to leverage browsing history as an identifier.

One of the authors of the original study comments on the replication.