Feeds

Admins warned: Drill SSL knowledge into your Chrome users

Google research finds whopping SSL click-through rates

Security for virtualized datacentres

Admins of Chrome shops unite – your users are dabbling with dodgy SSL, and you must teach them how to be safer online until Google updates its browser.

That's the gist of a new report from Google researcher Adrienne Porter Felt and University of California, Berkeley graduate student Devdatta Akhawe, who trawled some 25 million data points in a quest to figure out how effective phishing, malware, and SSL warnings are for users of Chrome and Firefox.

The paper in which the flaws are discussed – Alice in Warningland: A Large-Scale Field Study of Browser Security Warning Effectiveness – will be presented next week at the USENIX Security Symposium 2013 in Washington, DC.

It finds that Chrome could borrow a number of useful traits from Firefox to reduce the rate at which users click through SSL warnings, potentially opening their computers to being compromised.

"Google Chrome users are 2.1 times more likely to click through an SSL warning than Mozilla Firefox users," the researchers write. They believe this high click-through rate comes from a combination of aesthetics, the storage of user-set SSL exemptions, and different demographics from users of different operating systems.

The report found that Firefox's use of a stylized policeman combined with the use of the word "untrusted" in the title likely had an effect on stopping users from bypassing the warning.

It also noted that Firefox forces users to make three clicks versus one in Chrome to bypass the warning, and this is likely to have had an effect as well.

However, both browsers have specific technologies that skew their own hit rates up (Google), and down (Firefox).

Chrome, for instance, ships with a technology called "certificate pinning" that skews Google's click-through rate upward. Pinning adds a list of certificated preloaded HTTP Strict Transport Security sites, such as Google, PayPal, and Twitter, where users cannot click past SSL warnings.

This means that some 20 per cent of all Google Chrome SSL warning impressions are non-bypassable, compared with Firefox's 1 per cent. Therefore, Firefox users see warnings for sites that Google users do not see, and by not clicking through on these critical warnings, Firefox's SSL click-through rate is skewed down as compared to Chrome's.

Further contributing to this is the fact Firefox lets users permanently make exceptions for specific sites also lowered that browser's SSL click-through rate:

We suspect that people do repeatedly visit sites with warnings (e.g., a favorite site with a self-signed certificate). If future work were to confirm this, there could be two implications. First, if users are repeatedly visiting the same websites with errors, the errors are likely false positives; this would mean that the lack of an exception-storing mechanism noticeably raises the false positive rate in Google Chrome.

Second, warning fatigue could be a factor. If Google Chrome users are exposed to more SSL warnings because they cannot save exceptions, they might pay less attention to each warning that they encounter.

Though these two specific technologies are likely shifting the click-through rates among the surveyed population, that does not account for the yawning gulf in click-throughs between Firefox and Chrome, the researchers write.

In light of the study, Google plans to test an exception-remembering feature in Chrome to halt "warning fatigue" among users and make them more careful when confronted with warnings. It has also begun a series of A/B tests to test the effectiveness of "a number of improvements".

For the time being, however, it seems the greatest advice an admin can dispense to their users is as familiar as ever: RTFW – Read The Flipping Warning. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
NASTY SSL 3.0 vuln to be revealed soon – sources (Update: It's POODLE)
So nasty no one's even whispering until patch is out
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
Forget passwords, let's use SELFIES, says Obama's cyber tsar
Michael Daniel wants to kill passwords dead
FBI boss: We don't want a backdoor, we want the front door to phones
Claims it's what the Founding Fathers would have wanted – catching killers and pedos
Kill off SSL 3.0 NOW: HTTPS savaged by vicious POODLE
Pull it out ASAP, it is SWISS CHEESE
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
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?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.