Improved Security and Privacy Indicators in Firefox 70

The upcoming Firefox 70 release will update the security and privacy indicators in the URL bar.

In recent years we have seen a great increase in the number of websites that are delivered securely via HTTPS. At the same time, privacy threats have become more prevalent on the web and Firefox has shipped new technologies to protect our users against tracking.

To better reflect this new environment, the updated UI takes a step towards treating secure HTTPS as the default method of transport for websites, instead of a way to identify website security. It also puts greater emphasis on user privacy.

This post will outline the major changes to our primary security indicators:

  • A new permanent “protections” icon to access information about the restrictions Firefox is applying to the page to protect your privacy.
  • A new crossed-out lock icon as indicator for insecure HTTP and a new color for the lock icon that marks sites delivered securely.
  • A new placement for Extended Validation (EV) indicators.

 

Streamlining Security and Identity Indicators

Firefox traditionally marked sites delivered via a secure transport mechanism with a green lock icon. Sites delivered via insecure mechanisms got no additional security indicators. All sites were marked with an “information” icon, which served as an access point for more site information.

Before and after comparison of new identity icons

As part of the changes in Firefox 70, we will start showing a crossed-out lock icon as permanent indicator for sites delivered via the insecure protocols HTTP and FTP. Over two years ago, we started showing this indicator for insecure login pages. We also announced our intent to expand by showing a negative indicator for all HTTP pages as HTTPS adoption increases. By now, Firefox loads about 80% of pages via HTTPS.

The formerly green lock icon will now become gray, with the intention of de-emphasizing the default (secure) connection state and instead putting more emphasis on broken or insecure connections.

We will remove the “information” icon. The lock icon will be the new entry point for accessing security and identity information about the website.

 

Moving the EV indicator out of the URL Bar

A recent study by Thompson et al. shows that the display of the company name and country in the URL bar when the website is using an Extended Validation TLS certificate does not add any additional security parameters. One of the biggest downsides with this approach is that it requires the user to notice the absence of the EV indicator on a malicious site. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that EV certificates with colliding entity names can be generated by choosing a different jurisdiction.

As a result, we will relocate the EV indicator to the “Site Information” panel that is accessed by clicking on the lock icon. This change will hide the indicator from the majority of our users while keeping it accessible for those who need to access it. It also avoids ambiguities that could previously arise when the entity name in the URL bar was cut off to make space for the URL.

Image showing the new EV Indicator in the identity panel

 

Adding a new Protections Icon

The protections icon will be the entry point for the privacy properties of every page. It lets the user know about trackers or cryptominers on the page and how Firefox restricts them to improve privacy and performance. The icon will have 3 different states.

An overview of the different protection icons

Protections Enabled
When no tracking activity is detected and protections are not necessary, the shield shows in grey.

Protections Active
When protections are active on the current page, the shield displays a very subtle animation and adopt the purple gradient.

Protections Disabled
When the user has disabled protections for the site, the shield shows with a strike-through.

 

We are excited to roll out this improved new UI and will continue to evolve the indicators to give Firefox users an easy way to assess their privacy and security anywhere on the modern web.

A big thank you to all the individuals that contributed to this effort.

Hardening Firefox against Injection Attacks

A proven effective way to counter code injection attacks is to reduce the attack surface by removing potentially dangerous artifacts in the codebase and hence hardening the code at various levels. To make Firefox resilient against such code injection attacks, we removed occurrences of inline scripts as well as removed eval()-like functions.

Removing Inline Scripts and adding Guards to prevent Inline Script Execution

Firefox not only renders web pages on the internet but also ships with a variety of built-in pages, commonly referred to as about:pages. Such about: pages provide an interface to reveal internal state of the browser. Most prominently, about:config, which exposes an API to inspect and update preferences and settings which allows Firefox users to tailor their Firefox instance to their specific needs.

Since such about: pages are also implemented using HTML and JavaScript they are subject to the same security model as regular web pages and therefore not immune against code injection attacks. More figuratively, if an attacker manages to inject code into such an about: page, it potentially allows an attacker to execute the injected script code in the security context of the browser itself, hence allowing the attacker to perform arbitrary actions on the behalf of the user.

To better protect our users and to add an additional layer of security to Firefox, we rewrote all inline event handlers and moved all inline JavaScript code to packaged files for all 45 about: pages. This allowed us to apply a strong Content Security Policy (CSP) such as ‘default-src chrome:’ which ensures that injected JavaScript code does not execute. Instead JavaScript code only executes when loaded from a packaged resource using the internal chrome: protocol. Not allowing any inline script in any of the about: pages limits the attack surface of arbitrary code execution and hence provides a strong first line of defense against code injection attacks.

Removing eval()-like Functions and adding Runtime Assertions to prevent eval()

The JavaScript function eval(), along with the similar ‘new Function’ and ‘setTimeout()/setInterval()’, is a powerful yet dangerous tool. It parses and executes an arbitrary string in the same security context as itself. This execution scheme conveniently allows executing code generated at runtime or stored in non-script locations like the Document-Object Model (DOM). The downside however is that ‘eval()’ introduces significant attack surface for code injection and we discourage its use in favour of safer alternatives.

To further minimize the attack surface in Firefox and discourage the use of eval() we rewrote all use of ‘eval()’-like functions from system privileged contexts and from the parent process in the Firefox codebase. Additionally we added assertions, disallowing the use of ‘eval()’ and its relatives in system-privileged script contexts.

Unexpectedly, in our effort to monitor and remove all eval()-like functions we also encountered calls to eval() outside of our codebase. For some background, a long time ago, Firefox supported a mechanism which allowed you to execute user-supplied JavaScript in the execution context of the browser. Back then this feature, now considered a security risk, allowed you to customize Firefox at start up time and was called userChrome.js. After that mechanism was removed, users found a way to accomplish the same thing through a few other unintended tricks. Unfortunately we have no control of what users put in these customization files, but our runtime checks confirmed that in a few rare cases it included eval. When we detect that the user has enabled such tricks, we will disable our blocking mechanism and allow usage of eval().

Going forward, our introduced eval() assertions will continue to inform the Mozilla Security Team of yet unknown instances of eval() which we will closely audit and evaluate and restrict as we further harden the Firefox Security Landscape.

For the Mozilla Security Team,
Vinothkumar Nagasayanan, Jonas Allmann, Tom Ritter, and Christoph Kerschbaumer

 

Critical Security Issue identified in iTerm2 as part of Mozilla Open Source Audit

A security audit funded by the Mozilla Open Source Support Program (MOSS) has discovered a critical security vulnerability in the widely used macOS terminal emulator iTerm2. After finding the vulnerability, Mozilla, Radically Open Security (ROS, the firm that conducted the audit), and iTerm2’s developer George Nachman worked closely together to develop and release a patch to ensure users were no longer subject to this security threat. All users of iTerm2 should update immediately to the latest version (3.3.6) which has been published concurrent with this blog post.

Founded in 2015, MOSS broadens access, increases security, and empowers users by providing catalytic support to open source technologists. Track III of MOSS — created in the wake of the 2014 Heartbleed vulnerability — supports security audits for widely used open source technologies like iTerm2. Mozilla is an open source company, and the funding MOSS provides is one of the key ways that we continue to ensure the open source ecosystem is healthy and secure.

iTerm2 is one of the most popular terminal emulators in the world, and frequently used by developers. MOSS selected iTerm2 for a security audit because it processes untrusted data and it is widely used, including by high-risk targets (like developers and system administrators).

During the audit, ROS identified a critical vulnerability in the tmux integration feature of iTerm2; this vulnerability has been present in iTerm2 for at least 7 years. An attacker who can produce output to the terminal can, in many cases, execute commands on the user’s computer. Example attack vectors for this would be connecting to an attacker-controlled SSH server or commands like curl http://attacker.com and tail -f /var/log/apache2/referer_log. We expect the community will find many more creative examples.

Proof-of-Concept video of a command being run on a mock victim’s machine after connecting to a malicious SSH server. In this case, only a calculator was opened as a placeholder for other, more nefarious commands.

Typically this vulnerability would require some degree of user interaction or trickery; but because it can be exploited via commands generally considered safe there is a high degree of concern about the potential impact.

An update to iTerm2 is now available with a mitigation for this issue, which has been assigned CVE-2019-9535. While iTerm2 will eventually prompt you to update automatically, we recommend you proactively update by going to the iTerm2 menu and choosing Check for updates… The fix is available in version 3.3.6. A prior update was published earlier this week (3.3.5),  it does not contain the fix.

If you’d like to apply for funding or an audit from MOSS, you can find application links on the MOSS website.

Protecting our Users in Kazakhstan

Russian translation: Если вы хотите ознакомиться с этим текстом на русском языке, нажмите здесь.

Kazakh translation: Бұл постыны қазақ тілінде мына жерден оқыңыз.

In July, a Firefox user informed Mozilla of a security issue impacting Firefox users in Kazakhstan: They stated that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Kazakhstan had begun telling their customers that they must install a government-issued root certificate on their devices. What the ISPs didn’t tell their customers was that the certificate was being used to intercept network communications. Other users and researchers confirmed these claims, and listed 3 dozen popular social media and communications sites that were affected.

The security and privacy of HTTPS encrypted communications in Firefox and other browsers relies on trusted Certificate Authorities (CAs) to issue website certificates only to someone that controls the domain name or website. For example, you and I can’t obtain a trusted certificate for www.facebook.com because Mozilla has strict policies for all CAs trusted by Firefox which only allow an authorized person to get a certificate for that domain. However, when a user in Kazakhstan installs the root certificate provided by their ISP, they are choosing to trust a CA that doesn’t have to follow any rules and can issue a certificate for any website to anyone. This enables the interception and decryption of network communications between Firefox and the website, sometimes referred to as a Monster-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack.

We believe this act undermines the security of our users and the web, and it directly contradicts Principle 4 of the Mozilla Manifesto that states, “Individuals’ security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional.”

To protect our users, Firefox, together with Chrome, will block the use of the Kazakhstan root CA certificate. This means that it will not be trusted by Firefox even if the user has installed it. We believe this is the appropriate response because users in Kazakhstan are not being given a meaningful choice over whether to install the certificate and because this attack undermines the integrity of a critical network security mechanism.  When attempting to access a website that responds with this certificate, Firefox users will see an error message stating that the certificate should not be trusted.

We encourage users in Kazakhstan affected by this change to research the use of virtual private network (VPN) software, or the Tor Browser, to access the Web. We also strongly encourage anyone who followed the steps to install the Kazakhstan government root certificate to remove it from your devices and to immediately change your passwords, using a strong, unique password for each of your online accounts.

Web Authentication in Firefox for Android

Firefox for Android (Fennec) now supports the Web Authentication API as of version 68. WebAuthn blends public-key cryptography into web application logins, and is our best technical response to credential phishing. Applications leveraging WebAuthn gain new  second factor and “passwordless” biometric authentication capabilities. Now, Firefox for Android matches our support for Passwordless Logins using Windows Hello. As a result, even while mobile you can still obtain the highest level of anti-phishing account security.

Firefox for Android uses your device’s native capabilities: On certain devices, you can use built-in biometrics scanners for authentication. You can also use security keys that support Bluetooth, NFC, or can be plugged into the phone’s USB port.

The attached video shows the usage of Web Authentication with a built-in fingerprint scanner: The demo website enrolls a new security key in the account using the fingerprint, and then subsequently logs in using that fingerprint (and without requiring a password).

Adoption of Web Authentication by major websites is underway: Google, Microsoft, and Dropbox all support WebAuthn via their respective Account Security Settings’ “2-Step Verification” menu.

A few notes

For technical reasons, Firefox for Android does not support the older, backwards-compatible FIDO U2F Javascript API, which we enabled on Desktop earlier in 2019. For details as to why, see bug 1550625.

Currently Firefox Preview for Android does not support Web Authentication. As Preview matures, Web Authentication will be joining its feature set.

 

Grizzly Browser Fuzzing Framework

At Mozilla, we rely heavily on automation to increase our ability to fuzz Firefox and the components from which it is built. Our fuzzing team is constantly developing tools to help integrate new and existing capabilities into our workflow with a heavy emphasis on scaling. Today we would like to share Grizzly – a browser fuzzing framework that has enabled us to quickly and effectively deploy fuzzers at scale.

Grizzly was designed to allow fuzzer developers to focus solely on writing fuzzers and not worry about the overhead of creating tools and scripts to run them. It was created as a platform for our team to run internal and external fuzzers in a common way using shared tools. It is cross-platform and supports running multiple instances in parallel.

Grizzly is responsible for:

  • managing the browser (via Target)
    • launching
    • terminating
    • monitoring logs
    • monitoring resource usage of the browser
    • handling crashes, OOMs, hangs… etc
  • managing the fuzzer/test case generator tool (via Adapter)
    • setup and teardown of tool
    • providing input for the tool (if necessary)
    • creating test cases
  • serving test cases
  • reporting results
    • basic crash deduplication is performed by default
    • FuzzManager support is available (with advanced crash deduplication)

Grizzly is extensible by extending the “Target” or “Adapter” interface. Targets are used to add support for specific browsers. This is where the quirks and complexities of each browser are handled. See puppet_target.py for an example which uses FFPuppet to add support for Firefox. Adapters are used to add support for fuzzers. A basic functional example can be found here. See here for a slightly more advanced example that can be modified to support existing fuzzers.

Grizzly is primarily intended to support blackbox fuzzers. For a feedback driven fuzzing interface please see the libfuzzer fuzzing interface. Grizzly also has a test case reduction mode that can be used on crashes it finds.

For more information please checkout the README.md in the repository and the wiki. Feel free to ask questions on IRC in #fuzzing.

Fixing Antivirus Errors

After the release of Firefox 65 in December, we detected a significant increase in a certain type of TLS error that is often triggered by the interaction of antivirus software with the browser. Today, we are announcing the results of our work to eliminate most of these issues, and explaining how we have done so without compromising security.

On Windows, about 60% of Firefox users run antivirus software and most of them have HTTPS scanning features enabled by default. Moreover, CloudFlare publishes statistics showing that a significant portion of TLS browser traffic is intercepted. In order to inspect the contents of encrypted HTTPS connections to websites, the antivirus software intercepts the data before it reaches the browser. TLS is designed to prevent this through the use of certificates issued by trusted Certificate Authorities (CAs). Because of this, Firefox will display an error when TLS connections are intercepted unless the antivirus software anticipates this problem.

Firefox is different than a number of other browsers in that we maintain our own list of trusted CAs, called a root store. In the past we’ve explained how this improves Firefox security. Other browsers often choose to rely on the root store provided by the operating system (OS) (e.g. Windows). This means that antivirus software has to properly reconfigure Firefox in addition to the OS, and if that fails for some reason, Firefox won’t be able to connect to any websites over HTTPS, even when other browsers on the same computer can.

The interception of TLS connections has historically been referred to as a “man-in-the-middle”, or MITM. We’ve developed a mechanism to detect when a Firefox error is caused by a MITM. We also have a mechanism in place that often fixes the problems. The “enterprise roots” preference, when enabled, causes Firefox to import any root CAs that have been added to the OS by the user, an administrator, or a program that has been installed on the computer. This option is available on Windows and MacOS.

We considered adding a “Fix it” button to MITM error pages (see example below) that would allow users to easily enable the “enterprise roots” preference when the error is displayed. However, we realized that this was something we want users to do rather than an “override” button that allows a user to bypass an error at their own risk.

Example of a MitM Error Page in Firefox

Beginning with Firefox 68, whenever a MITM error is detected, Firefox will automatically turn on the “enterprise roots” preference and retry the connection. If it fixes the problem, then the “enterprise roots” preference will remain enabled (unless the user manually sets the “security.enterprise_roots.enabled” preference to false). We’ve tested this change to ensure that it doesn’t create new problems. We are also recommending as a best practice that antivirus vendors enable this preference (by modifying prefs.js) instead of adding their root CA to the Firefox root store. We believe that these actions combined will greatly reduce the issues encountered by Firefox users.

In addition, in Firefox ESR 68, the “enterprise roots” preference will be enabled by default. Because extended support releases are often used in enterprise settings where there is a need for Firefox to recognize the organization’s own internal CA, this change will streamline the process of deploying Firefox for administrators.

Finally, we’ve added an indicator that allows the user to determine when a website is relying on an imported root CA certificate. This notification is on the site information panel accessed by clicking the lock icon in the URL bar.

It might cause some concern for Firefox to automatically trust CAs that haven’t been audited and gone through the rigorous Mozilla process. However, any user or program that has the ability to add a CA to the OS almost certainly also has the ability to add that same CA directly to the Firefox root store. Also, because we only import CAs that are not included with the OS, Mozilla maintains our ability to set and enforce the highest standards in the industry on publicly-trusted CAs that Firefox supports by default. In short, the changes we’re making meet the goal of making Firefox easier to use without sacrificing security.

Categories: TLS

Updated GPG key for signing Firefox Releases

The GPG key used to sign the Firefox release manifests is expiring soon, and so we’re going to be switching over to new key shortly.

The new GPG subkey’s fingerprint is 097B 3130 77AE 62A0 2F84 DA4D F1A6 668F BB7D 572E, and it expires 2021-05-29.

The public key can be fetched from KEY files from Firefox 68 beta releases, or from below. This can be used to validate existing releases signed with the current key, or future releases signed with the new key.

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-----END PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----

Next steps in privacy-preserving Telemetry with Prio

In late 2018 Mozilla conducted an experiment to collect browser Telemetry data with Prio, a privacy-preserving data collection system developed by Stanford Professor Dan Boneh and PhD candidate Henry Corrigan-Gibbs. That experiment was a success: it allowed us to validate that our Prio data collections were correct, efficient, and integrated well with our analysis pipeline. Today, we want to let you know about our next steps in testing data collection with Prio.

As part of Content Blocking, Firefox will soon include default protections against tracking. Our protections are built on top of a blocklist of known trackers. We expect trackers to react to our protections, and in some cases attempt to work around them. We can monitor how our blocklists are applied in Firefox to detect these workarounds.

However, directly monitoring how our blocklists are applied would require data that we feel is too sensitive to collect from release versions of Firefox. That’s why Prio is so important: it allows us to understand how our blocklists are applied across a large number of users, without giving us the ability to determine how they are applied in any individual user’s browser or on any individual page visit.

To support this we’ve developed Firefox Origin Telemetry, which is built on top of Prio. We will use Firefox Origin Telemetry to collect counts of the number of sites on which each blocklist rule was active, as well as counts of the number of sites on which the rules were inactive due to one of our compatibility exemptions. By monitoring these statistics over time, we can determine how trackers react to our new protections and discover abuse.

In the next phase of testing we need validate that Firefox Origin Telemetry works at scale. To provide effective privacy, Prio requires that two independent parties each process a separate portion of the data — a requirement that we will not satisfy during this test. As in our initial test, we will run both data collection servers ourselves to complete end-to-end testing prior to involving a second party. That’s why we are running this test only in our pre-release channels, which we know are used by a smaller audience that has chosen to help us test development versions of Firefox. We’ve ensured that the data we’re collecting falls within our data collection policies for pre-release versions of Firefox, and we’ve chosen to limit the collection to 1% of Firefox Nightly users, as this is all that’s necessary to validate the API.

We expect to start this test during our Nightly 69 development cycle. Collecting this data in a production environment will require an independent third party to run one of the servers. We will provide further updates once we have such a partner in place.

Mozilla’s Common CA Database (CCADB) promotes Transparency and Collaboration

The Common CA Database (CCADB) is helping us protect individuals’ security and privacy on the internet and deliver on our commitment to use transparent community-based processes to promote participation, accountability and trust. It is a repository of information about Certificate Authorities (CAs) and their root and subordinate certificates that are used in the web PKI, the publicly-trusted system which underpins secure connections on the web. The Common CA Database (CCADB) paves the way for more efficient and cost-effective management of root stores and helps make the internet safer for everyone. For example, the CCADB automatically detects and alerts root store operators when a root CA has outdated audit statements or a gap between audit periods. This is important, because audit statements provide assurance that a CA is following required procedures so that they do not issue fraudulent certificates.

Through the CCADB we are extending the checks and balances on root CAs to subordinate CAs to provide similar assurance that the subordinate CAs are not issuing fraudulent certificates. Root CAs, who are directly included in Mozilla’s program, can have subordinate CAs who also issue SSL/TLS certificates that are trusted by Firefox. There are currently about 150 root certificates in Mozilla’s root store, which leads to over 3,100 subordinate CA certificates that are trusted by Firefox. In our efforts to ensure that all subordinate CAs follow the rules, we require that they be disclosed in the CCADB along with their audit statements.

Additionally, the CCADB is making it possible for Mozilla to implement Intermediate CA Preloading in Firefox, with the goal of improving performance and privacy. Intermediate CA Preloading is a new way to hande websites that are not properly configured to serve up the intermediate certificate along with its SSL/TLS certificate. When other browsers encounter such websites they use a mechanism to connect to the CA and download the certificate just-in-time. Preloading the intermediate certificate data (aka subordinate CA data) from the CCADB avoids the just-in-time network fetch, which delays the connection. Avoiding the network fetch improves privacy, because it prevents disclosing user browsing patterns to the CA that issued the certificate for the misconfigured website.

Mozilla created and runs the CCADB, which is also used and contributed to by Microsoft, Google, Cisco, and Apple. Even though the common CA data is shared, each root store operator has a customized experience in the CCADB, allowing each root store operator to see the data sets that are important for managing root certificates included in their program.

The CCADB:

  • Makes root stores more transparent through public-facing reports, encouraging community involvement to help ensure that CAs and subordinate CAs are correctly issuing certificates.
    • For example the crt.sh website combines information from the CCADB and Certificate Transparency (CT) logs to identify problematic certificates.
  • Adds automation to improve the level and accuracy of management and rule enforcement. For example the CCADB automates:
  • Enables CAs to provide their annual updates in one centralized system, rather than communicating those updates to each root store separately; and in the future will enable CAs to apply to multiple root stores with a single application process.

Maintaining a root store containing only credible CAs is vital to the security of our products and the web in general. The major root store operators are using the CCADB to promote efficiency in maintaining root stores, to improve internet security by raising the quality and transparency of CA and subordinate CA data, and to make the internet safer by enforcing regular and contiguous audits that provide assurances that root and subordinate CAs do not issue fraudulent certificates. As such, the CCADB is enabling us to help ensure individuals’ security and privacy on the internet and deliver on our commitment to use transparent community-based processes to promote participation, accountability and trust.