Archive for the 'Web Security' Category

Modest Proposals for Google

Friday, June 9th, 2017

Great to meet up with Wahooglers Adrienne Porter Felt, Ben Kreuter, Jonathan McCune, Samee Zahur (Google’s latest addition from my group), and (honorary UVAer interning at Google this summer) Riley Spahn at Google’s Research Summit on Security and Privacy this week in Mountain View.

As part of the meeting, the academic attendees were given a chance to give a 3-minute pitch to tell Google what we want them to do. The slides I used are below, but probably don’t make much sense by themselves.

The main modest proposal I tried to make is that Google should take it on as their responsibility to make sure nothing bad ever happens to anyone anywhere. They can start with nothing bad ever happening on the Internet, but with the Internet pretty much everywhere, should expand the scope to cover everywhere soon.

To start with an analogy from the days when Microsoft ruled computing. There was a time when Windows bluescreens were a frequent experience for most Windows users (and at the time, this pretty much mean all computer users). Microsoft analyzed the crashes and concluded that nearly all were because of bugs in device drivers, so it wasn’t their fault and was horribly unfair for them to be blamed for the crashes. Of course, to people losing their work because of a crash, it doesn’t really matter who’s code was to blame. By the end of the 90s, though, Microsoft took on the mission of reducing the problems with device drivers, and a lot of great work came out of this (e.g., the Static Driver Verifier), with dramatic improvements on the typical end user’s computing experience.

Today, Google rules a large chunk of computing. Lots of bad things happen on the Internet that are not Google’s fault. As the latest example in the news, the leaked NSA report of Russian attacks on election officials describes a phishing attack that exploits vulnerabilities in Microsoft Word. Its easy to put the blame on overworked election officials who didn’t pay enough attention to books on universal computation they read when they were children, or to put it on Microsoft for allowing Word to be exploited.

But, Google’s name is also all over this report – the emails when through gmail accounts, the attacks phished for Google credentials, and the attackers used plausibly-named gmail accounts. Even if Google isn’t too blame for the problems that enable such an attack, they are uniquely positioned to solve it, both because of their engineering capabilities and resources, but also because of the comprehensive view they have of what happens on the Internet and powerful ability to influence it.

Google is a big company, with lots of decentralized teams, some of which definitely seem to get this already. (I’d point to the work the Chrome Security Team has done, MOAR TLS, and RAPPOR as just a few of many examples of things that involve a mix of techincal and engineering depth and a broad mission to make computing better for everyone, not obviously connected to direct business interests.) But, there are also lots of places where Google doesn’t seem to be putting serious efforts into solving problems they could but viewing them as outside scope because its really someone else’s fault (my particular motivating example was PDF malware). As a company, Google is too capable, important, and ubiquitous to view problems as out-of-scope just because they are obviously undecidable or obviously really someone else’s fault.

[Also on Google +]

Insecure by Default? Authentication Services in Popular Web Frameworks

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Hannah Li presented a poster at USENIX Security Symposium on how popular web frameworks perform authentication.

Insecure by Default? Authentication Services in Popular Web Frameworks
[Abstract (PDF)] [Poster (PDF)]

The work studies how different design choices made by web frameworks impact the security of web applications built by typical developers using those frameworks, with a goal of understanding the usability and performance trade-offs that lead frameworks to adopt insecure defaults, and develop alternatives that lead to better security without sacrificing the needs of easy initial development and deployment.

An exercise in password security went terribly wrong, security experts say

Friday, April 1st, 2016

PCWord has a story about CNBC’s attempt to “help” people measure their password security: CNBC just collected your password and shared it with marketers: An exercise in password security went terribly wrong, security experts say, 29 March 2016.

Adrienne Porter Felt, a software engineer with Google’s Chrome security team, spotted that the article wasn’t delivered using SSL/TLS (Secure Socket Layer/Transport Layer Security) encryption.

SSL/TLS encrypts the connection between a user and a website, scrambling the data that is sent back and forth. Without SSL/TLS, someone one the same network can see data in clear text and, in this case, any password sent to CNBC.

“Worried about security? Enter your password into this @CNBC website (over HTTP, natch). What could go wrong,” Felt wrote on Twitter. “Alternately, feel free to tweet your password @ me and have the whole security community inspect it for you.”

The form also sent passwords to advertising networks and other parties with trackers on CNBC’s page, according to Ashkan Soltani, a privacy and security researcher, who posted a screenshot.

Despite saying the tool would not store passwords, traffic analysis showed it was actually storing them in a Google Docs spreadsheet, according to Kane York, who works on the Let’s Encrypt project.

(Posted on April 1, but this is actually a real story, as hard as that might be to believe.)

Dormant Malicious Code Discovered on Thousands of Websites

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Here’s the latest from Yuchen Zhou (PhD 2015, now at Palo Alto Networks): Dormant Malicious Code Discovered on Thousands of Websites, Yuchen Zhou and Wei Xu, Palo Alto Networks Blog, 14 November 2015.

During our continuous monitoring for a 24-hour period from November 11, 2015 to November 12, 2015, eight days after the initial discovery, the Chuxiong Archives website consistently presented malicious content injected by an attacker depending on the source IP and user agent. We believe that if a user were to visit the compromised website a second time following the initial exposure to the malicious code, the site would recognize the source IP and user-agent and simply remain dormant, not exhibiting any malicious behavior. Because of this anti-analysis/evasion technique, it may easily cause the belief that a website no longer poses a threat, when it remains infected.

At the time of this report, using our malicious web content scanning system, we have already discovered more than four thousands additional, similarly compromised websites globally exhibiting the same ability of being able to be dormant or active depending on source IP and user agent. Investigations regarding this campaign on a larger scale are ongoing and a second report detailing the similarly compromised websites will be published in the near future.

Computer Science Grad Stands Watch for Users of Google’s Popular Browser

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Adrienne Porter Felt (BSCS 2008) returned to UVa last Friday as a Distinguished Alumni Speaker. UVa Today published this article:

Computer Science Grad Stands Watch for Users of Google’s Popular Browser
, UVa Today, 7 December 2015.

Adrienne Porter Felt’s job is to keep you secure on Chrome.

Felt, 29, who earned a computer science degree from the University of Virginia in 2008, leads the usable security team at Google working on the popular Internet browser.

Taking Evans’ offer for a research project was a turning point in Felt’s life, showing her something she liked that she could do well.

“It turned out that I really loved it,” she said. “I like working in privacy and security because I enjoy helping people control their digital experiences. I think of it as, ‘I’m professionally paranoid so that other people don’t need to be.’”

SRG at Oakland 2015

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Several SRGers were at IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (“Oakland” in San Jose).

Yuchen Zhou presented his work on Understanding and Monitoring Embedded Web Scripts. Yuchen graduated with his PhD the day before the conference, and will be joining Palo Alto Networks.

Samee Zahur is a co-author (along with Benjamin Kreuter, who is an “in-progress UVa PhD student” diverted by Google, and several researchers from Microsoft Research) on the paper, Geppetto: Versatile Verifiable Computation, which was presented by Bryan Parno.

Samee also presented a poster on Obliv-C.

Weilin Xu presented a poster on Automatically Evading Classifiers

It was also great to see SRG alums Yan Huang (who is not at Indiana University, and was a co-author on the paper about ObliVM), Jon McCune (who is now working on trusted computing at Google) and Adrienne Felt (who was the keynote speaker for the W2SP workshop, and gave a very interesting talk about user-facing security design and experiments in Google Chrome; Adrienne’s first paper was in W2SP 2008 when she was an undergraduate at UVa).

Congratulations Dr. Zhou!

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Yuchen Zhou successfully defended his PhD thesis on Improving Security and Privacy of Integrated Web Applications! The dissertation was approved by his committee: Shuo Chen (Microsoft), Joanne Dugan, Kevin Sullivan, Westley Weimer, and Ronald Williams.

Congratulations to Yuchen Dr. Zhou!

Libra Link: Improving Security and Privacy of Integrated Web Applications.

Understanding and Monitoring Embedded Web Scripts

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Modern web applications make frequent use of third-party scripts, often in ways that allow scripts loaded from external servers to make unrestricted changes to the embedding page and access critical resources including private user information. Our paper describing tools to assist site administrators in understanding, monitoring, and restricting the behavior of third-party scripts embedded in their site, and what we’ve learned by using them, is now available: Yuchen Zhou and David Evans, Understanding and Monitoring Embedded Web Scripts, IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy 2015.

Yuchen will present the paper at the Oakland conference (in San Jose) this May.

Project Site:

Giving Web Developers Tools to Protect Their Sites and Users

Monday, February 9th, 2015

UVAToday has an article about Yuchen Zhou’s work on analyzing web scripts: Giving Web Developers Tools to Protect Their Sites and Users, UVAToday, 5 February 2015.

Zhou also devised a tool that developers could use to constrain the activity of the hundreds of scripts they typically embed in a website. In the process of performing analytics or placing ads, these scripts gather user-generated information on a page and send it to their servers. There is no guaranteeing, however, that these servers are secure or that the companies offering these services are trustworthy. In other cases, scripts ostensibly offering a benign service like analytics could take over the page, replacing the site-owner’s ads with their own ads or stealing private user information from the page.

Rather than try to develop rules for every page on a site, Zhou’s tool generates a set of policies that can be applied to the site as a whole. It catalogs the elements of the site based on their content and their relationship to the structure of the page and specifies which elements can be accessed by specific scripts. “We’ve found that using a white list approach – specifying which elements a script can use rather than those it can’t – is more effective because it is easier to automatically identify public elements like an ad placeholder than sensitive information in the page,” Zhou said. The site owner can then review the policies and grant permissions accordingly.

Gogo’s Fake SSL Certificates

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Group alumna Adrienne Felt is in the news for reporting that Gogo in-flight wifi service is generating fake SSL certificates.

From Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi Undermines Encryption, Slate FutureTense, 5 Jan 2015:

Wi-Fi on planes is unreliable and expensive. Even worse: Service from Gogo—one of the primary providers of in-flight Internet—has a lot of strange insecurities. Google engineer Adrienne Porter Felt realized during a flight on Friday that, for Google services and possibly others, Gogo was undermining encryption meant to keep pages secure.