Feeds

Browser plugin brings strong crypto to Google webmail

(Some restrictions apply)

Using blade systems to cut costs and sharpen efficiencies

Software developers have released a JavaScript implementation of the OpenPGP encryption message format that allows users to encrypt and decrypt communications within web-based mail services.

GPG4Browsers is currently available only as an extension for the Google Chrome browser for integration with Gmail. It works with all asymmetric and symmetric ciphers and hash functions specified in the formal OpenPGP standard, with the exception of the IDEA algorithm. It is compatible with the GnuPG implementation of OpenPGP.

"The implementation currently implements a Chrome browser extension which uses the HTML5 local storage of the extension to store private and public certificates (keys)," developers with Germany-based Recurity Labs, wrote in the documentation (PDF). "Chrome browser extensions enabling JavaScript applications to run in their own context separated from the website."

The prototype implementation can be used to encrypt and decrypt messages, digitally sign messages and verify the signatures of received messages, and import and export keys. It doesn't support the generation or manipulation of keys or work with messages that are symmetric-only encrypted.

If GPG4Browsers can bring email encryption to the masses, its creators will be doing the world a huge favor, but El Reg isn't holding its breath. True, dedicated email programs that support public-key encryption are complicated enough that only power users are typically able to implement and stick with them. Like previous browser plugins implementing crypto, GPG4Browsers appears to shift all the complexity out of the email client and into the browser.

"Generally (ie every case I can think of) plugins don't take off," Trevor Perrin, an independent cryptographer, wrote in an email. "Reasons being that plugins usually have a less-than-perfect integration with the host application (in this case Gmail) so not a great user experience – they end up being rough around the edges, or have subtle interference with printing, or forwarding, or attachments, or something."

There may also be resistance from crypto users – who already are a security-conscious lot – to trusting private keys and confidential messages to a set of PGP functions folded inside some JavaScript running inside a browser.

"I trust the idea of a piece of software that holds passwords or private keys when it is partitioned from the rest of the browser more than when it is implemented inside something that is routinely manipulated by an attacker, namely the JavaScript environment," said Adam O'Donnell, a developer and the chief architect for antivirus provider Immunet's cloud technology group. "I really don't know enough other than to say 'that scares the hell out of me.'"

The Recurity Labs developers make clear that their plugin isn't suitable for use on public machines. And since a user's keys must be imported to each instance where the implementation is used, we're not sure we see a clear benefit to using a plugin over using a dedicated piece of software to achieve the same results.

Of course, webmail isn't likely to go away anytime soon, so the biggest contribution of GPG4Browsers may be to bring a long overdue feature to the Mozillas of the world.

"Hopefully, this will get the attention of browser vendors to provide better integrated crypto instead of requiring an extension," said Nate Lawson, a cryptographer who is principal of Root Labs. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
Four fake Google haxbots hit YOUR WEBSITE every day
Goog the perfect ruse to slip into SEO orfice
Putin: Crack Tor for me and I'll make you a MILLIONAIRE
Russian Interior Ministry offers big pile o' roubles for busting pro-privacy browser
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.