Interesting research on web tracking: “Who Left Open the Cookie Jar? A Comprehensive Evaluation of Third-Party Cookie Policies:
Abstract: Nowadays, cookies are the most prominent mechanism to identify and authenticate users on the Internet. Although protected by the Same Origin Policy, popular browsers include cookies in all requests, even when these are cross-site. Unfortunately, these third-party cookies enable both cross-site attacks and third-party tracking. As a response to these nefarious consequences, various countermeasures have been developed in the form of browser extensions or even protection mechanisms that are built directly into the browser.
In this paper, we evaluate the effectiveness of these defense mechanisms by leveraging a framework that automatically evaluates the enforcement of the policies imposed to third-party requests. By applying our framework, which generates a comprehensive set of test cases covering various web mechanisms, we identify several flaws in the policy implementations of the 7 browsers and 46 browser extensions that were evaluated. We find that even built-in protection mechanisms can be circumvented by multiple novel techniques we discover. Based on these results, we argue that our proposed framework is a much-needed tool to detect bypasses and evaluate solutions to the exposed leaks. Finally, we analyze the origin of the identified bypass techniques, and find that these are due to a variety of implementation, configuration and design flaws.
The researchers discovered many new tracking techniques that work despite all existing anonymous browsing tools. These have not yet been seen in the wild, but that will change soon.
Three news articles. BoingBoing post.
Posted on August 17, 2018 at 5:26 AM •
Really interesting research: “Online tracking: A 1-million-site measurement and analysis,” by Steven Englehardt and Arvind Narayanan:
Abstract: We present the largest and most detailed measurement of online tracking conducted to date, based on a crawl of the top 1 million websites. We make 15 types of measurements on each site, including stateful (cookie-based) and stateless (fingerprinting-based) tracking, the effect of browser privacy tools, and the exchange of tracking data between different sites (“cookie syncing”). Our findings include multiple sophisticated fingerprinting techniques never before measured in the wild.
This measurement is made possible by our web privacy measurement tool, OpenWPM, which uses an automated version of a full-fledged consumer browser. It supports parallelism for speed and scale, automatic recovery from failures of the underlying browser, and comprehensive browser instrumentation. OpenWPM is open-source1 and has already been used as the basis of seven published studies on web privacy and security.
Summary in this blog post.
Posted on May 23, 2016 at 5:33 AM •
This is creepy and disturbing:
Privacy advocates are warning federal authorities of a new threat that uses inaudible, high-frequency sounds to surreptitiously track a person’s online behavior across a range of devices, including phones, TVs, tablets, and computers.
The ultrasonic pitches are embedded into TV commercials or are played when a user encounters an ad displayed in a computer browser. While the sound can’t be heard by the human ear, nearby tablets and smartphones can detect it. When they do, browser cookies can now pair a single user to multiple devices and keep track of what TV commercials the person sees, how long the person watches the ads, and whether the person acts on the ads by doing a Web search or buying a product.
Related: a Chrome extension that broadcasts URLs over audio.
EDITED TO ADD (12/14): More here.
Posted on November 18, 2015 at 6:59 AM •
New research: “All Your Biases Belong To Us: Breaking RC4 in WPA-TKIP and TLS,” by Mathy Vanhoef and Frank Piessens:
Abstract: We present new biases in RC4, break the Wi-Fi Protected Access Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (WPA-TKIP), and design a practical plaintext recovery attack against the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol. To empirically find new biases in the RC4 keystream we use statistical hypothesis tests. This reveals many new biases in the initial keystream bytes, as well as several new long-term biases. Our fixed-plaintext recovery algorithms are capable of using multiple types of biases, and return a list of plaintext candidates in decreasing likelihood.
To break WPA-TKIP we introduce a method to generate a large number of identical packets. This packet is decrypted by generating its plaintext candidate list, and using redundant packet structure to prune bad candidates. From the decrypted packet we derive the TKIP MIC key, which can be used to inject and decrypt packets. In practice the attack can be executed within an hour. We also attack TLS as used by HTTPS, where we show how to decrypt a secure cookie with a success rate of 94% using 9*227 ciphertexts. This is done by injecting known data around the cookie, abusing this using Mantin’s ABSAB bias, and brute-forcing the cookie by traversing the plaintext candidates. Using our traffic generation technique, we are able to execute the attack in merely 75 hours.
We need to deprecate the algorithm already.
Posted on July 28, 2015 at 12:09 PM •
Verizon is tracking the Internet use of its phones by surreptitiously modifying URLs. This is a good description of how it works.
Posted on November 4, 2014 at 6:21 AM •
Abstract: We investigate the ability of a passive network observer to leverage third-party HTTP tracking cookies for mass surveillance. If two web pages embed the same tracker which emits a unique pseudonymous identifier, then the adversary can link visits to those pages from the same user (browser instance) even if the user’s IP address varies. Using simulated browsing profiles, we cluster network traffic by transitively linking shared unique cookies and estimate that for typical users over 90% of web sites with embedded trackers are located in a single connected component. Furthermore, almost half of the most popular web pages will leak a logged-in user’s real-world identity to an eavesdropper in unencrypted traffic. Together, these provide a novel method to link an identified individual to a large fraction of her entire web history. We discuss the privacy consequences of this attack and suggest mitigation strategies.
Posted on April 4, 2014 at 8:25 AM •
There’s a new (overly breathless) article on the NSA’s QUANTUM program, including a bunch of new source documents. Of particular note is this page listing a variety of QUANTUM programs. Note that QUANTUMCOOKIE, “which forces users to divulge stored cookies,” is not on this list.
I’m busy today, so please tell me anything interesting you see in the comments.
I have written previously about QUANTUM.
Posted on March 12, 2014 at 12:55 PM •
It’s the Browser Exploit Against SSL/TLS Tool, or BEAST:
Using the known text blocks, BEAST can then use information collected to decrypt the target’s AES-encrypted requests, including encrypted cookies, and then hijack the no-longer secure connection. That decryption happens slowly, however; BEAST currently needs sessions of at least a half-hour to break cookies using keys over 1,000 characters long.
The attack, according to Duong, is capable of intercepting sessions with PayPal and other services that still use TLS 1.0which would be most secure sites, since follow-on versions of TLS aren’t yet supported in most browsers or Web server implementations.
While Rizzo and Duong believe BEAST is the first attack against SSL 3.0 that decrypts HTTPS requests, the vulnerability that BEAST exploits is well-known; BT chief security technology officer Bruce Schneier and UC Berkeley’s David Wagner pointed out in a 1999 analysis of SSL 3.0 that “SSL will provide a lot of known plain-text to the eavesdropper, but there seems to be no better alternative.” And TLS’s vulnerability to man-in-the middle attacks was made public in 2009. The IETF’s TLS Working Group published a fix for the problem, but the fix is unsupported by SSL.
EDITED TO ADD: Good analysis.
Posted on September 23, 2011 at 1:37 PM •
A couple of weeks ago Wired reported the discovery of a new, undeletable, web cookie:
Researchers at U.C. Berkeley have discovered that some of the net’s most popular sites are using a tracking service that can’t be evaded — even when users block cookies, turn off storage in Flash, or use browsers’ “incognito” functions.
The Wired article was very short on specifics, so I waited until one of the researchers — Ashkan Soltani — wrote up more details. He finally did, in a quite technical essay:
Posted on August 15, 2011 at 4:48 AM •
Firesheep is a new Firefox plugin that makes it easy for you to hijack other people’s social network connections. Basically, Facebook authenticates clients with cookies. If someone is using a public WiFi connection, the cookies are sniffable. Firesheep uses wincap to capture and display the authentication information for accounts it sees, allowing you to hijack the connection.
Slides from the Toorcon talk.
Protect yourself by forcing the authentication to happen over TLS. Or stop logging in to Facebook from public networks.
EDITED TO ADD (10/27): To protect against this attack, you have to encrypt the entire session — not just the initial authentication.
EDITED TO ADD (11/4): Foiling Firesheep.
EDITED TO ADD (11/10): More info.
EDITED TO ADD (11/17): Blacksheep detects Firesheep.
Posted on October 27, 2010 at 7:53 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.