Welcome!

GovIT Authors: Lori MacVittie, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Jayaram Krishnaswamy, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Security, Wireless, SOA & WOA, ColdFusion, Websphere, Weblogic, Linux, Open Source, Virtualization, AJAX & REA, Web 2.0, Open Web, Oracle, HP, Cloud Expo, Apache, GovIT

Security: Interview

Bulletproofing the WebSocket Wire Protocol

There's been a flurry of discussion this week among Internet & Web standards experts about the WebSocket communications protocol

Web Security Journal: There's been a flurry of discussion this week among Internet and Web standards heavy-hitters around WebSocket, the new communications protocol supported in Chrome 4 and Safari 5. What was the main issue? Is there some kind of fundamental security vulnerability with the WebSocket (WS) protocol?

John Fallows: When surfing the Web, our browsers may communicate with Web servers via HTTP proxies that deliver many benefits, such as providing previously cached Web content more efficiently than repeatedly contacting the target server. These proxies may be either explicitly configured at the browser or they may form part of the general network topology to intercept the communication path implicitly. Securely encrypted Web communication cannot be intercepted by such proxies.

Members of the Hypertext Bidirectional (HyBi) IETF Working Group recently completed a study to test the vulnerabilities of these implicit, intercepting HTTP proxies. The study found that the raw socket capabilities of Flash and Java could be used to mount an attack on these intercepting HTTP proxies, such that an attacker might be able to influence the contents of the cache and change the behavior of specific sites for users accessing those sites through the same intercepting HTTP proxy.

The results showed that of the 47,338 intercepting HTTP proxies tested with the unencrypted WebSocket handshake alone, 0.37% and 0.017% were found vulnerable for the two specific attacks described in the study.

Web Security Journal: If the flaw lies not in WebSockets, but in some particular type of proxies, why are commentators inclining towards discussing WebSockets and only WebSockets?

Fallows: If all intercepting HTTP proxies correctly implemented the HTTP standard, then the 101 Switching Protocols response used by WebSocket handshake would be both sufficient and elegant.

Even though these intercepting HTTP proxies vulnerabilities have been enabled by Flash and Java for a long time, they were reported in the study as part of the IETF working group design process for the WebSocket wire protocol, therefore commentators have been inclined to comment specifically about the WebSockets portion of this result.

In the short term, browser providers have elected to temporarily withdraw the JavaScript WebSocket API from deployed browser implementations until they and others in the IETF working group reach agreement on how to bulletproof the WebSocket wire protocol to handle even buggy implementations of intercepting HTTP proxies. There are already proposals in place so I anticipate a timely resolution early next year.

Web Security Journal: The tests that spurred Mozilla and Opera to disable WebSockets as the default were done with Java and Flash clients. That means presumably that this issue has been around long before WebSockets? Why hasn't it been caught and dealt with before?

Fallows: The WebSocket wire protocol design effort has brought together a huge community of experts to deliver this functionality such that it can be deployed on a global scale, which necessitates such experiments to validate the standards compliance of deployed HTTP proxy infrastructure.

It will be interesting to see how Adobe and Oracle respond to address the vulnerabilities enabled by raw socket access in Flash and Java. Perhaps this will encourage them to adopt WebSockets as a native part of their platform, and have a more restrictive policy on raw socket access for Web deployments of their plug-in technologies.

Web Security Journal: What's the exact current status, then? The protocol is being standardized by the IETF as we speak, but what about the WebSocket API overall? What's its status vis-a-vis the W3C?

Fallows: The W3C JavaScript WebSocket API remains unchanged in its definition. However, browser providers await resolution of the WebSocket wire protocol at the IETF before deploying an implementation.

Web Security Journal: So is it accurate to describe WebSockets - still - as an early stage specification at the moment?

Fallows: The WebSocket wire protocol is currently in the IETF Internet Draft stage, and there is no shortage of support or dedication in the Hypertext Bidirectional Working Group to reach completion in a timely manner.

Web Security Journal: You mentioned earlier that there's no real barrier to improving the WebSocket protocol the moment it is bulletproofed to withstand broken infrastructure, since such an improvement can simply be included in the latest update of whatever browser a user is using. But the creator of JavaScript, Brendan Eich, has warned that we might end up with what he calls "version skew" because users won't necessarily switch browsers just to get the latest version of WS. He asks, rhetorically: "Are we going to synchronize Firefox's release cycle with Chrome's? Is Opera? Is Safari?" Isn't that a valid concern?

Fallows: Web browsers have always innovated beyond the standards, in part to differentiate themselves and in part to drive the standards forward with the benefit of real-world experience. WebSocket is a good example of that, having evolved beyond both Ajax and Comet, as well as raw socket communication provided by plug-ins. If we are careful to provide a stable and extensible WebSocket base, as was achieved with HTTP, then I would fully expect to see browsers implementing custom enhancements to that base, and it will be the responsibility of WebSocket gateway providers to support for those enhancements.

Web Security Journal: Mozilla, despite disabling it as the default in Firefox 4, says it is "excited" by WebSockets. Why is such a major browser player "excited" - what is it about WebSockets that gets a major Internet force like the Mozilla Foundation to be so upbeat about its potential?

Fallows: WebSockets, and HTML5 in general, represent a leap forward for the Web application platform and it is certainly an "exciting" time for all of us using the Web today. For decades we have seen the evolution of Web applications with gradually increasing interactivity getting closer and closer to their desktop installed counterparts. WebSockets allows us to add the final piece of that puzzle, providing desktop class TCP network connectivity while traversing the HTTP-constrained infrastructure of the Web. A new breed of applications can now be built using WebSocket with a fraction of the server-side infrastructure costs, optimized network bandwidth utilization and more immediate delivery of time-sensitive information.

Web Security Journal: And where does the WebSocket protocol sit in terms of HTML5 specification?

The WebSocket wire protocol is governed by the IETF who manage many of the world's protocols like HTTP, FTP, SMTP, and others.

The W3C standards body maintains the both HTML5 specification and the WebSocket API specification which defines how JavaScript applications can leverage WebSocket functionality.

Browser providers depend on both standards to fully deliver WebSocket functionality.

Web Security Journal: Adam Barth, whose paper on a possible exploit of transparent proxies sparked this latest discussion, has also described a handshake for the WebSocket protocol that resists cross-protocol attacks. Is that the direction the IETF will go do you think?

Fallows: Ultimately there are a few ways to proceed that balance HTTP compatibility with strategies to overcome non-compliant HTTP proxies. Given that the same study demonstrated no successful attacks on Adam's proposed enhancement to the WebSocket handshake, it seems to be a very strong candidate as we move forward.

Web Security Journal: Can't a WebSocket connection simply be encrypted? Wouldn't that render this whole issue moot - or is that too simplistic?

Fallows: The attacks identified by Adam Barth's paper would not be possible using an encrypted WebSocket connection because the HTTP proxy would not be able to see the encrypted wire traffic and could therefore not be confused into triggering the buggy behavior. If the browser providers restricted encrypted-only access to WebSockets then this issue could be avoided.

Web Security Journal: So from a Kaazing perspective, then, is it your intention to propagate the world with WebSockets and then go to sleep with the feeling of a job well done, or is the propagation of WS gateways the means to some other kind of business goal?

Fallows: At Kaazing, we believe that WebSockets is the beginning of a new future for Web applications as we move from the disconnected world of yesterday to the always connected, always up-to-date world we live in today. We understand that while WebSockets provide the foundation of that new beginning, the majority of the new capabilities lie in how you use WebSocket to support higher-level protocols that make it straightforward to solve technical challenges that would have taken significantly more effort to achieve otherwise.

Our goals are to help to world transition to this new standard easily and efficiently, and continue to deliver solutions that eliminate the unnecessary architectural complexity found in many Web applications today.

Web Security Journal: And is anybody yet finding that they can make more money, or spend less, because of Kaazing's offerings? Are there real-world implementations at all?

Fallows: We have customers in the Financial Services, Sports Betting, and Online Auctions markets that have used our technology to reduce infrastructure costs, reduce time-to-market, improve end-user experience and drive their revenues more efficiently.

Web Security Journal: What, in your view, is the best way of channeling developers' interest in experimenting with what a WebSocket gateway can do for their architecture? How can someone who is not yet au fait with the technbology most easily play catch-up?

Fallows: The WebSocket.org site is dedicated to explaining the various aspects of WebSocket technology and would be a useful starting point for those wishing to read up. It contains links to the relevant WebSocket API and wire protocol specifications, including a discussion of the many benefits of WebSockets.

A developer download of Kaazing WebSocket Gateway is also freely available from kaazing.com. This delivers emulation of the standard WebSocket API for all browsers. So in the interim until browser providers re-enable WebSockets, developers can still experiment with the same WebSocket APIs in both current and older browsers that will prepare them for the future of Web communication.

More Stories By Security News Desk

SYS-CON's Security News desk trawls the world of security for news of software, hardware, products, and services that seems likely to be of interest to infosec professionals and summarizes them for easy assimilation by busy IT managers and staff.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Media announced that Splunk, a provider of the leading software platform for real-time Operational Intelligence, has launched an ad campaign on Big Data Journal. Splunk software and cloud services enable organizations to search, monitor, analyze and visualize machine-generated big data coming from websites, applications, servers, networks, sensors and mobile devices. The ads focus on delivering ROI - how improved uptime delivered $6M in annual ROI, improving customer operations by mining large volumes of unstructured data, and how data tracking delivers uptime when it matters most.
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
Wearable devices have come of age. The primary applications of wearables so far have been "the Quantified Self" or the tracking of one's fitness and health status. We propose the evolution of wearables into social and emotional communication devices. Our BE(tm) sensor uses light to visualize the skin conductance response. Our sensors are very inexpensive and can be massively distributed to audiences or groups of any size, in order to gauge reactions to performances, video, or any kind of presentation. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Jocelyn Scheirer, CEO & Founder of Bionolux, will discuss ho...
We’re no longer looking to the future for the IoT wave. It’s no longer a distant dream but a reality that has arrived. It’s now time to make sure the industry is in alignment to meet the IoT growing pains – cooperate and collaborate as well as innovate. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, will examine the key ingredients to IoT success and identify solutions to challenges the industry is facing. The deep industry expertise behind this presentation will provide attendees with a leading edge view of rapidly emerging IoT oppor...
“With easy-to-use SDKs for Atmel’s platforms, IoT developers can now reap the benefits of realtime communication, and bypass the security pitfalls and configuration complexities that put IoT deployments at risk,” said Todd Greene, founder & CEO of PubNub. PubNub will team with Atmel at CES 2015 to launch full SDK support for Atmel’s MCU, MPU, and Wireless SoC platforms. Atmel developers now have access to PubNub’s secure Publish/Subscribe messaging with guaranteed ¼ second latencies across PubNub’s 14 global points-of-presence. PubNub delivers secure communication through firewalls, proxy ser...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
The BPM world is going through some evolution or changes where traditional business process management solutions really have nowhere to go in terms of development of the road map. In this demo at 15th Cloud Expo, Kyle Hansen, Director of Professional Services at AgilePoint, shows AgilePoint’s unique approach to dealing with this market circumstance by developing a rapid application composition or development framework.

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

Building low-cost wearable devices can enhance the quality of our lives. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Sai Yamanoor, Embedded Software Engineer at Altschool, provided an example of putting together a small keychain within a $50 budget that educates the user about the air quality in their surroundings. He also provided examples such as building a wearable device that provides transit or recreational information. He then reviewed the resources available to build wearable devices at home including open source hardware, the raw materials required and the options available to power s...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
The Internet of Things promises to transform businesses (and lives), but navigating the business and technical path to success can be difficult to understand. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, demonstrated how to approach creating broadly successful connected customer solutions using real world business transformation studies including New England BioLabs and more.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...