U Indiana Grad Student Exposes Firefox Vulnerability

Christopher Soghoian, a grad student at Indiana University's School of Informatics, has discovered a security flaw associated a number of big-name commercial extensions to the Firefox Web browser.

Soghoian, who made a name for himself in security circles last year when he exposed a security problem in airline boarding passes, said although he contacted many of the companies associated with the Firefox discovery, none had responded as of last week.

Soghoian said a vulnerability exists in the upgrade tool used by several Firefox extensions, including Google Toolbar, Google Browser Sync, Yahoo Toolbar, Del.cio.us Extension, Facebook Toolbar, AOL Toolbar, Ask.com Toolbar; LinkedIn Browser Toolbar, Netcraft Anti-Phishing Toolbar, PhishTank SiteChecker and a number of other commercial extensions to the browser.

Users are vulnerable to having spyware and other malicious code placed their computers because of the vulnerability, Sobhoian said.

However, most open source or hobbyist Firefox extensions are not vulnerable to the attack, including those available via the official Firefox Addons website at http://addons.mozilla.org.

Soghoian said he notified Firefox's Security Team, as well as Google, Yahoo, and Facebook, about the problem about 45 days ago but that as of May 30, none had released a fix. Until vendors have fixed the problems, users should remove/disable all Firefox extensions except those that they are sure they have downloaded from the official Firefox Addons website.

"The bitter irony here is that by downloading an anti-phishing toolbar, you're currently making yourself more vulnerable than if you had never downloaded it at all," Soghoian told Wired magazine.  "It's totally trivial to spot. This is in no way a major piece of computer security research. The work of attempting to harass the vendors into fixing the flaw has taken far more time than finding it."

Soghoian created a stir last November when, in trying to highlight a flaw in the nation's airline security procedures, he put a tool on his website letting anyone create fake boarding pass. He was visited by FBI agents, who seized his computers and other equipment but was not charged in the incident.

Visit the link below to see a demo of an attack against Google's Browser Sync and a full analysis of the flaw.

Read More:

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

comments powered by Disqus