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Google's cookie crumbles under scripting attack

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Security researchers have unpicked a flaw in Google spreadsheets that allows cookie stealing. The cross-site scripting vulnerability enables attackers to use stolen cookies to access any Google service a user has registered, including accessing a victim's Google mail account.

Google has now plugged the vulnerability, discovered by security researcher Billy Rios. In a blog posting, Rios explains a caching flaw by Google, alongside problems in how browsers handle content-type headers, created a cookie stealing risk. A Google cookie is valid across all its sub domains, a convenience factor that greatly enhances the potential for mischief.

This particular XSS vulnerability on Google's domain takes advantage of how IE determines the content type of the HTTP response being returned by the server. Other browsers have problems in handling content-type headers properly, but this vulnerability is limited to IE.

Rios created a spreadsheet which contained HTML and a string of JavaScript code for viewing a user's cookie. He then saved this spreadsheet and generated a link for the spreadsheet to be served as a text-based CSV file, which IE mistakenly interprets as HTML.

Anyone viewing this doctored spreadsheet would hand over their cookies to Rios, or potentially an attacker, as explained here. Fortunately, Google has now rendered crafted table content as text rather than HTML.

Rios has been active in identifying XSS flaws in Google's web applications. Last week, he published an advisory about a flaw in Google code that lent itself to stealing users' passwords. Prior to that, Rios uncovered vulnerabilities in Google's Picasa, Heise Security adds. ®

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