Feeds

Google (finally) adds protection for common Web 2.0 attack

Better late than never

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Google has beefed up the security of Gmail and its other services by adding a feature to login pages that blocks one of the more common forms of web attacks.

The upgrade is designed to protect against CSRF, or cross-site request forgery, attacks. The technique subverts basic website defenses by exploiting the often-misplaced trust one site has in another. Over the past three years, vulnerabilities in Gmail, YouTube, and other Google properties have put user accounts at risk of being accessed by miscreants who use the method.

Sometime in the last three days, Google's login pages began setting a cookie with a unique token on each user's browser, according to Mike Bailey, a senior researcher for Foreground Security. That same value is also embedded into the login form. If the two don't match, the user will be unable to log in.

"It's one of those things that people have been telling them to fix for a long time and for whatever reason, they haven't done so until just now," Bailey told El Reg. "They finally implemented the protection that pretty much everybody in the industry recommends they use."

A Google spokesman confirmed that the company added CSRF protection to login pages.

"The security of our users' accounts is very important to us, and we're always looking for ways to make improvements," he said.

While Google is good at quickly squashing reported bugs that put accounts in jeopardy, Bailey and other security researchers have often criticized the web giant for not being more proactive. A case in point: In September 2008, Jeremiah Grossman, CTO of WhiteHat Security, demonstrated a way to use CSRF to learn which YouTube videos a user had viewed.

Grossman's proof-of-concept worked by uploading an Adobe Flash video into Gmail and then duping a victim into accessing it. Because such files are automatically granted access to an entire domain, Grossman was then able to access users' login names, email addresses, and viewing history.

While Google security pros fixed that vulnerability and other CSRF holes, the criticism has been that they were essentially treating the symptoms rather than curing the sickness. What's more, Bailey said, the token-cookie protection has been available on other Google forms but was conspicuously absent from its login page. That's similar to installing an alarm sensor on all the windows of a mansion, but not bothering to put one on the front door.

To be sure, Google, with its millions of users, probably wanted to proceed gingerly with the new protection lest it break the the normal sign-in flow for legitimate users. And it's also fair to point out that Bailey said plenty of other large websites, which he declined to name, have yet to adopt the measure.

The important thing is that Google has finally joined the rest of its security-conscious peers by adding an industry standard for preventing one of the most common forms of attacks plaguing Web 2.0 properties.

"It's our best solution so far," he said. "It's not entirely ideal, but it works well." ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
'Kim Kardashian snaps naked selfies with a BLACKBERRY'. *Twitterati gasps*
More alleged private, nude celeb pics appear online
Home Depot ignored staff warnings of security fail laundry list
'Just use cash', former security staffer warns friends
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Snowden, Dotcom, throw bombs into NZ election campaign
Claim of tapped undersea cable refuted by Kiwi PM as Kim claims extradition plot
Freenode IRC users told to change passwords after securo-breach
Miscreants probably got in, you guys know the drill by now
THREE QUARTERS of Android mobes open to web page spy bug
Metasploit module gobbles KitKat SOP slop
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.