Musings on personal and enterprise technology (of potential interest to professional technoids and others)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Security Musings » Perspectives - Firefox Extension

Nice posting re: a FireFox extension that can simplify your browsing experience while retaining strong safeguards against unintentionally connecting to an unsafe website, explained on . That article expresses IMHO very valid "concerns about Firefox’s newly handled way of dealing with self-signed or unapproved certificates. It seems the folks over at Carnegie Mellon University have released an extension for Firefox to help deal with this exact issue.

My main issue ... wasn’t directly tied to the error in the security model Firefox was introducing, but simply the intrusion factor of what was taking place, and the lack of information that FF was providing when denying access to the site. The extension provides two primary benefits:

1. If you connect to a website with an untrusted certificate (e.g., a self-signed certificate), Firefox will give you a very nasty security error and force you to manually install an exception. Perspectives can detect whether a self-signed certificate is valid, and automatically overrides the annoying security error page if it is safe to do so.
It is possible that an attacker may trick one of the many Certificate Authorities trusted by Firefox into incorrectly issuing a certificate for a trusted website. Perspectives can also detect this attack and will warn you if things look suspicious.
The same is true for HTTPS sites with certificates that contain mismatched domain names (e.g., uses a certificate for or certificates that are expired.

2. The primary description for Perspective also states:

instead of having applications issue bland warnings, which users often ignore, the application can either skip the warning if notary data indicates that the key is valid, or give a very stern warning in the rare cases when an attack appears to be in progress.

This extension does pretty much exactly what I wished Firefox would have done with the new policy from the beginning.
Link to the project:

Yet another example of how the Open Source firefox extensions have enabled key contributions to enhance the web browsing experience :-)

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