Feeds

Microsoft claims Google bypassed its browser privacy too

P3P policy flaw gave automatic access

Seven Steps to Software Security

Updated Microsoft has released data showing that Google has been bypassing the user-defined privacy settings in Internet Explorer by using incorrect P3P identification terms.

“When the IE team heard that Google had bypassed user privacy settings on Safari, we asked ourselves a simple question: is Google circumventing the privacy preferences of Internet Explorer users too?” Dean Hachamovitch, VP of Internet Explorer wrote in a blog post. “We’ve discovered the answer is yes: Google is employing similar methods to get around the default privacy protections in IE and track IE users with cookies.”

Redmond had been rather pleased about the fact that it hadn’t suffered the same kind of problems as Apple against Google’s quest for information on users. But now it claims Google has got to its users, too, by circumventing protections guaranteed by the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) system its browser supports.

The P3P system uses three or four character code chunks to describe the privacy policy of the requester. As an example, Hachamovitch used “TAI,” which indicates “Information may be used to tailor or modify content or design of the site where the information is used only for a single visit to the site and not used for any kind of future customization.”

However, if the code is not recognized, Internet Explorer will accept it anyway and allow the requester full access to the user for third-party cookie purposes. Google didn’t do this “in a manner consistent with the technology,” Microsoft suggests, as it used the following message:

“P3P: CP="This is not a P3P policy! See http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=151657 for more info."

Microsoft described being able to bypass its browser’s privacy settings in this way as “a nuance in the P3P specification,” but as was pointed out by El Reg last year and in academic papers in 2010, it’s a tactic that’s been widely used to circumvent the privacy wishes of the browser user. Microsoft is one of a dwindling band of companies still using P3P, and this latest admission will increase the decay in support.

The news will also come as a fillip to last week’s bipartisan calls for investigations into how Google is bypassing privacy protections on Safari. There’s no word from Google as yet on this, but you can bet it’s not a pretty President’s Day at the Chocolate Factory. ®

Update

"Microsoft uses a “self-declaration” protocol (known as “P3P”) dating from 2002 under which Microsoft asks websites to represent their privacy practices in machine-readable form," Rachel Whetstone, VP of communications and policy at Google, told El Reg in an emailed statement.

"It is well known - including by Microsoft - that it is impractical to comply with Microsoft’s request while providing modern web functionality. We have been open about our approach, as have many other websites."

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
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
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Black Hat anti-Tor talk smashed by lawyers' wrecking ball
Unmasking hidden users is too hot for Carnegie-Mellon
Attackers raid SWISS BANKS with DNS and malware bombs
'Retefe' trojan uses clever spin on old attacks to grant total control of bank accounts
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
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.
Reducing security risks from open source software
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.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.