[whatwg] whatwg Digest, Vol 82, Issue 10

Glenn Maynard glenn at zewt.org
Tue Jan 4 20:51:13 PST 2011

On Tue, Jan 4, 2011 at 10:53 PM, Boris Zbarsky <bzbarsky at mit.edu> wrote:
> Note that you keep comparing websites to desktop software, but desktop
> software typically doesn't change out from under the user (possibly in ways
> the original software developer didn't intend).  The desktop apps that do
> update themselves have a lot of checks on the process precisely to avoid
> issues like MITM injection of trojaned updates and whatnot.  So in practice,
> they have a setup where you make a trust decision once, and then the code
> that you already trusted verifies signatures on every change to itself.

HTTPS already prevents MITM attacks and most others; the major attack
vector they don't prevent is a compromised server.

I thnik the main difference is that the private keys needed to sign
with HTTPS are normally located on the server delivering the scripts,
whereas signed updates can keep their private keys offline.  That's
not a model web apps can mimic: all ways to execute scripts, in both
Javascript files and inline in HTML, would need to be signed, which is
impossible with templated HTML.

> Perhaps we need infrastructure like that for websites; I'm not quite sure
> how to make it work, though, since the code that the user trusted once is
> not known to still be ok, unlike the desktop app case.

You don't really know that an installer you download from a server is
valid, either.  Most of the time--for most users and most
software--you have to take it on faith that the file on the server
hasn't been compromised.  But, yes, you only have to do that once with
auto-updating systems, not on every update.

Glenn Maynard

More information about the whatwg mailing list