Browsers fail password protection tests

Toxic soup of potential vulnerabilities

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A beta version of Google Chrome has tied with Safari for last place in tests of how the browsers dealt with password security.

The tests - put together by security consultancy Chapin Information Services - ran the most popular browsers against a set of 21 checks.

None performed particularly well.

Opera 9.62 passed only seven of the 21 tests but that still made it the "joint winner" in an outstandingly mediocre field.

Firefox 3.0.4 also passed a third of the tests while IE 7 scored five out of 21. Bringing up the rear Safari 3.2 for Windows and Goodle Chrome passed just two of the tests.

Curiously Google Chrome was the only browser to pass one test " not filling in a form when auto-complete is set to off".

The tests collectively measured how well browsers kept passwords saved by users safe from phishing fraudsters and malicious hackers, preventing the potential disclosure of online login credentials. The exercise looked at how strong the security architecture of each of the browsers might be without looking in depth at whether these might give rise to vulnerabilities, much less specific exploits.

However a combination of password management and security shortcomings in a browser might be used together to snaffle online login credentials. Chapin singles out three flaws in Chrome, present in the beta, and unfixed in the final version, to illustrate this potential risk.

Chrome fails to check the location of password requests or the destination to which they are dispatched. In addition, invisible form elements can trigger password management functions in the browser without user involvement. "These three problems, combined with seventeen others so far identified in Chrome's password manager, form a toxic soup of potential vulnerabilities that can coalesce into broad insecurity," company founder Richard Chapin warns.

Opera performs the best of the five browsers tested at withstanding this type of attack, which Chapin highlights because he discovered a similar class of vulnerability in version 2 of Firefox two years ago.

Chapin's tests set a high standard but looking at the results it is tempting to think that users would be well advised never to save passwords for sensitive websites.

More details of the tests can be found here. ®

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