Firesheep, released earlier this week, is a Firefox add-on that enables one to easily capture HTTP application session cookies from other users communications with specific popular sites. The problem it exploits is that many sites protect the initial reusable shared password-based authentication with TLS/SSL, but then revert further communication to unsecured HTTP. This exposes any application session cookies employed by the site, and returned by users’ browsers to the site on every request, to capture and replay by an attacker. This enables one to hang out on a local network, your favorite coffee shop for instance, and hijack others’ interactions with various social networking sites and retailers, for example.
This particular class of typical website vulnerability has been known for ages, as well as techniques for addressing it. For example, websites can simply offer their entire site over TLS/SSL (i.e. via “HTTPS“), as PayPal does. Some sites do so, but for whatever reason still revert users communications to unsecured HTTP by default, or some portion of their communications remain unsecured. However, if one can configure one’s browser to only securely interact with some given site (i.e. domain), and if the site supports this, then Problem Largely Solved. See, for example, Collin Jackson and Adam Barth‘s paper, ForceHTTPS: Protecting High-Security Web Sites from Network Attacks, for a description of this class of vulnerabilities, attacks, and remediation approaches.
I’ve been working with Collin and Adam on standardizing ForceHTTPS — their paper was the inspiration for the HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) work and the present Internet-Draft specification thereof, and thus the HSTS implementations presently available in Firefox 3.x (via the Force-TLS and NoScript plugins), natively in Firefox 4 beta 6 and later, and natively in Chrome 4 and later. There’s also the HTTPS-Everywhere extension from the EFF that comes pre-loaded with a list of sites to use only via HTTPS, and is configurable such that one can add more (unfortunately it doesn’t support HSTS apparently)..
Now, HSTS is a website security policy that in typical cases, sites will explicitly signal to browsers (via an HTTP request header field), as PayPal presently does. However, this week, Sid Stamm, who authored the Firefox v3 HSTS add-on (Force-TLS) and native implementation, conzed-up a new Firefox v4 add-on, STS UI (Strict Transport Security User Interface), that allows one to configure one’s browser to regard given sites as HSTS sites, even if they don’t signal it. This also addresses the Bootstrap MITM Vulnerability noted in the HSTS draft spec.
Note that Chrome features “Preloaded HSTS sites”, and that NoScript (FF v3 & v4), HTTPS-Everywhere (FFv3), and Force-TLS (FFv3) all facilitate user configuration of HTTPS-only sites.
We’ll be working in the new IETF WebSec working group to finish the HSTS draft spec and get it published as an RFC, hopefully before too much of 2011 is gone. I’ll try to keep you all updated on that.
In the meantime, =JeffH sez be careful with your web logins