[whatwg] whatwg Digest, Vol 82, Issue 10

Boris Zbarsky bzbarsky at MIT.EDU
Tue Jan 4 21:10:03 PST 2011

On 1/4/11 10:51 PM, Glenn Maynard wrote:
> 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

I've yet to see someone suggest restricting the asking UI to https sites 
(though I think it's something that obviously needs to happen).  As far 
as I can tell, things like browser geolocation prompts are not thus 
restricted at the moment.

> the major attack vector they don't prevent is a compromised server.

Or various kinds of cross-site script injection (which you may or may 
not consider as 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.

Or fetch them over https from a server they trust sufficiently (e.g. 
because it's very locked down in terms of what it allows in the way of 
access and what it serves up), actually; I believe at least some update 
mechanisms do just that.

> 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.

Agreed, but that seems like a problem for actual security here.

> 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.

That really depends.  Publishing checksums is not all that uncommon. 
The point is that at least the remote possibility of due diligence on 
the user's part exists here.  So far, for web sites, it doesn't.

> But, yes, you only have to do that once with auto-updating systems, not on every update.



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