Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Risk

3/21/2012
02:22 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Firefox Takes Privacy Lead With HTTPS By Default

Firefox users soon won't have to worry about their browsers betraying their search queries.

Securing The Super Bowls Of Sports
Securing The Super Bowls Of Sports
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Mozilla has fixed a Firefox "bug" that allowed information about users' searches to be easily observed.

The "bug," reported to Mozilla by privacy researcher Christopher Soghoian over a year ago, is in fact a feature: Web browsers rely on unprotected HTTP connections for Web search, thereby allowing anyone with access to Deep Packet Inspection tools, like ISPs or governments, to monitor and censor search data.

In addition, Web browsers using HTTP connections leak search queries through the "referrer header"--the keywords entered as search queries are transmitted to the destination website when a link returned in a search results list is clicked. Websites receiving search traffic happily collect this information because it's valuable for marketers to know the search terms that brought visitors to their sites.

[ Read HP Combines PC, Printer Groups. ]

Having begun tests of HTTPS search in 2010, Google last October said it would relay search queries over encrypted HTTPS connections for all signed-in users. In so doing, the company is shielding Internet packets from prying eyes and preventing the transmission of search query keywords to websites. But the percentage of Google searches conducted by signed-in users remains quite small: Google engineer Matt Cutts has suggested that less than 10% of Google searches come from those signed-in to their Google Accounts.

Mozilla has gone a step further, enabling HTTPS by default in Firefox, thereby making privacy protection available to all users of its browser.

"We are currently testing the change to use SSL for built-in Google searches in our Firefox nightly channel," a Mozilla spokesperson said via email. "If no issues are uncovered, it will move through our Aurora and Beta release channels before eventually shipping to all our Firefox users. This will include migrating the changes to our non-English version of Firefox, as well."

So it may be a few months before the average Firefox user sees this change, which the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been trying to encourage through its HTTPS Everywhere campaign.

"This is a big deal for the 25% or so of Internet users who use Firefox to browse the Web, bringing major improvements in privacy and security," Soghoian wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

Soghoian, incidentally, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Google in 2010 for claiming to support privacy but failing to take action to prevent browsers from leaking search queries, which Google has acknowledged may reveal personal information.

Soghoian credits Google with supporting Mozilla's decision to implement HTTPS by default--Google has a search deal with Mozilla and will end up processing the more resource-intensive encrypted traffic--but questions why Google's Chrome engineers have allowed themselves to be beaten to the punch.

"For the Chrome team, whose browser has otherwise set the gold standard for security (and who have proposed and implemented a mechanism to enable websites to limit referrer leakage), this must be extremely frustrating and probably quite embarrassing," he wrote. "Hopefully, they will soon follow Mozilla's lead by protecting their users with HTTPS search by default."

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Secure Sockets Layer isn't perfect, but there are ways to optimize it. The new Web Encryption That Works supplement from Dark Reading shows four places to start. (Free registration required.)

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Bprince
50%
50%
Bprince,
User Rank: Ninja
3/22/2012 | 12:26:12 AM
re: Firefox Takes Privacy Lead With HTTPS By Default
Tech savvy users will care about this, but I doubt many people will know the difference, which I suspect is one of the reasons other browser vendors haven't done it.
Brian Prince, InformationWeek/Dark Reading Comment Moderator
Mobile Banking Malware Up 50% in First Half of 2019
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/17/2020
Exploits Released for As-Yet Unpatched Critical Citrix Flaw
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/13/2020
Microsoft to Officially End Support for Windows 7, Server 2008
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/13/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-7227
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
Westermo MRD-315 1.7.3 and 1.7.4 devices have an information disclosure vulnerability that allows an authenticated remote attacker to retrieve the source code of different functions of the web application via requests that lack certain mandatory parameters. This affects ifaces-diag.asp, system.asp, ...
CVE-2019-15625
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A memory usage vulnerability exists in Trend Micro Password Manager 3.8 that could allow an attacker with access and permissions to the victim's memory processes to extract sensitive information.
CVE-2019-19696
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A RootCA vulnerability found in Trend Micro Password Manager for Windows and macOS exists where the localhost.key of RootCA.crt might be improperly accessed by an unauthorized party and could be used to create malicious self-signed SSL certificates, allowing an attacker to misdirect a user to phishi...
CVE-2019-19697
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
An arbitrary code execution vulnerability exists in the Trend Micro Security 2019 (v15) consumer family of products which could allow an attacker to gain elevated privileges and tamper with protected services by disabling or otherwise preventing them to start. An attacker must already have administr...
CVE-2019-20357
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A Persistent Arbitrary Code Execution vulnerability exists in the Trend Micro Security 2020 (v160 and 2019 (v15) consumer familiy of products which could potentially allow an attacker the ability to create a malicious program to escalate privileges and attain persistence on a vulnerable system.