Zooko Wilcox-O'Hearn wrote:
> began with him mentioning a specific use case that he cares about and
> sees how to improve: authentication of Mozilla plugins.

To be specific, the itch that I was looking to scratch was the
authentication of Firefox updates. In some slides from the last
BlackHat, I was dismayed to learn that the firefox update process
depends utterly upon SSL and the assorted Certificate Authorities to
validate https URLs that land on a mozilla.org server. The actual update
bundles that are fetched from those https URLs are not validated at all.

This causes two problems. The first is that any failure of the SSL or CA
path will allow an attacker to subvert the update process and take over
the browser. The slides I looked through showed one easy attack (the
ASN.1 pascal-vs-C-string bug) which has since been fixed. But we've seen
lots of failures at this level, and there are dozens of CAs in the TCB:
a compromise of any one of them would break everything (some are still
using MD5). Since firefox checks in daily to find out about new updates,
there are lots of opportunities to mount this attack.

The second is that it limits Mozilla's mirroring possibilities. I think
that they currently have to hand out private keys to their mirrors,
something like a cert that designates the server as mirror1.mozilla.org,
so they must be very cautious about who runs each mirror. Their mirrors
must all be running SSL, and a compromise of any of those mirrors could
jeopardize the whole update path. I think that they could have far more
mirrors (and be better able to accomodate the tens of millions of
firefox users) if they didn't have this limitation.

Having an end-to-end method to validate the update bundles would fix
both of these problems. Updates could even be acquired via other means
(sneakernet, local mirror, etc) and validated by the browser
individually before unpacking+installation. Plugins could conceivably
used something similar, but I think the basic browser update path is a
valuable one that's easier to reason about.

>From what I can tell, the Sparkle update framework (for OS-X)[1] is
doing something like what I want for firefox: the Sparkle-enabled
application will only accept update bundles which are signed by a DSA
privkey that matches a pubkey embedded in the app. It'd be nice if
Firefox could do the same. And if Firefox were to establish a
quietly-backwards-compatible convention (i.e. the hash-mark trick) for
strong URL-based authentication of HTTP resources, then other
applications could start using it too, and a significant class of
current web security problems (like the mixed-content one where an HTTPS
page loads a javascript library via HTTP) could be fixed.

cheers,
 -Brian

[1]:
http://sparkle.andymatuschak.org/documentation/pmwiki.php/Documentation/BasicSetup

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