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JavaScript Template Attacks expose new browser fingerprinting vectors

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Image: Schwarz et al.

Academics have come up with a new technique that leaks data about users’ browsers; enough to defeat anti-fingerprinting systems and privacy-preserving browser extensions to provide ways to identify users by their browser and underlying platform in a way that has not been done before.

Called “JavaScript Template Attack,” this new technique revolves around the concept of JavaScript properties and the default values that browser engines return for basic JavaScript queries seeking the value of a certain property.

JavaScript environment templates

The researchers, all three from the Graz University of Technology, in Austria, created a system that automates the querying and collection of thousands of JavaScript properties and their default values from a user’s environment.

The basic idea was to automate these queries and then rotate browsers, operating systems, hardware platform, and browser extensions, to collect the default values of all known JavaScript properties for each environment/installation.

Researchers then built a matrix of each environment’s default properties values, creating a template — hence the name of JavaScript Template Attack — for each possible detection scenario, listing all environment-dependent property values.

The research team says these templates can be used at a later point to scan a visiting user and detect specific environment details based on the default property values the user’s browser’s returns.

This data can be used for creating user profiles (for traffic/user fingerprinting) that break user anonymity or for devious means, like refining the targeting of zero-day exploits.

A pretty powerful & accurate attack

The research team said tests showed their method was able to distinguish between all 40 tested environments; distinguish browser down to exact version; determine installed extensions based on how they modified native property values; determine even individual extension settings; determine extremely technical details such as the CPU vendor, actual operating system (not the one declared by user agents, which can be faked); determine the presence of a browser private mode; and even if the browser was running from within a virtual machine.

This information might be useful for tracking or might be more useful for refining exploits. It all depends on what the threat actor is trying to do, but the conclusion is that the method is reliable enough to work and bypass even privacy-hardened environments, like Tor on Android.

All in all, JavaScript Template Attacks turned out to be very powerful, as researchers also discovered a slew of JavaScript properties that had not been officially documented, which improved the accuracy of their method.

JS template attacks - browser property stats

Image: Schwarz et al.

Furthermore, because browsers makers tend to improve their software with new Web APIs — all of which are controllable via JavaScript — the number of JavaScript properties has grown in the past years and is expected to grow, and improve the accuracy of JavaScript Template Attacks even more.

JS template attacks - JS properties in browsers

Image: Schwarz et al.

The research team said they hoped that browser makers and privacy extension developers use their work on uncovering environment-dependent differences between JavaScript property values to improve their products and stamp out any opportunities for user fingerprinting.

Additional details about this research can be found in a white paper named “JavaScript Template Attacks: Automatically Inferring Host Information for Targeted Exploits,” available for download from here and here. A 20-minute video presentation, which the research team gave at the NDSS 2019 security conference, is available below:

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Security

The Five Pillars of (Azure) Cloud-based Application Security

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This 1-hour webinar from GigaOm brings together experts in Azure cloud application migration and security, featuring GigaOm analyst Jon Collins and special guests from Fortinet, Director of Product Marketing for Public Cloud, Daniel Schrader, and Global Director of Public Cloud Architecture and Engineering, Aidan Walden.

These interesting times have accelerated the drive towards digital transformation, application rationalization, and migration to cloud-based architectures. Enterprise organizations are looking to increase efficiency, but without impacting performance or increasing risk, either from infrastructure resilience or end-user behaviors.

Success requires a combination of best practice and appropriate use of technology, depending on where the organization is on its cloud journey. Elements such as zero-trust access and security-driven networking need to be deployed in parallel with security-first operations, breach prevention and response.

If you are looking to migrate applications to the cloud and want to be sure your approach maximizes delivery whilst minimizing risk, this webinar is for you.

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Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research brings together experts in data management and security, featuring GigaOm Analyst Enrico Signoretti and special guest from RackTop Systems, Jonathan Halstuch. The discussion will focus on data storage and how to protect data against cyberattacks.

Most of the recent news coverage and analysis of cyberattacks focus on hackers getting access and control of critical systems. Yet rarely is it mentioned that the most valuable asset for the organizations under attack is the data contained in these systems.

In this webinar, you will learn about the risks and costs of a poor data security management approach, and how to improve your data storage to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a compromised infrastructure.

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CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions

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Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.

Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.

“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”

As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.

Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.

“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.

So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:

“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”

Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.

“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”

Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast

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