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Chrome for the slurp-weary: Cookie-binning Aviator browser arrives

Chromium-based software promises ad- and track-blocking

Application security programs and practises

Security developers have released a stripped-down privacy-friendly browser, Aviator, based on the open source browser core Chromium as used by Google Chrome.

WhiteHat Security's Aviator browser has built-in functionality designed to block ads and tracking by default. In addition, Flash and Java are click-to-play, a configuration that WhiteHat argues greatly reduces the risk of drive-by downloads, which are a common method for malware distribution.

Each tab is sandboxed to help prevent one program from making changes to others, or to a computing environment. In addition, Aviator always operates in private mode. The technology strips out referring URLs across domains to protect its users' privacy. The default search engine for the new browser is ‪DuckDuckGo‬, the privacy-friendly web search tool.

WhiteHat has been carrying out in-house tests of the browser, prior to releasing a Mac OS X version to the public this week.

In a blog post, WhiteHat Security's director of product management Robert Hansen argues that major vendors (suc as Google, Mozilla and Microsoft) could all enhance their browsers' privacy protection features. But, he says, they are reluctant to make these changes because it would hurt their market share and business model to introduce built-in ad blocking, for example.

"Not a single browser vendor offers ad blocking, instead relying on optional third-party plugins, because this breaks their business model and how they make money,” said Hansen. “Current incentives between the user and browser vendor are misaligned. People simply aren’t safe online when their browser vendor profits from ads.”

He continued: "WhiteHat Security has no interest or stake in the online advertising industry, so we can offer a browser free of ulterior motives. What you see is what you get. We aren’t interested in tracking you or your browsing history, or in letting anyone else have that information either.

A more detailed explanation of how WhiteHat Aviator differs from its older sibling, Google Chrome, can be found here courtesy of WhiteHat.

"Because the BSD license of Chromium allows us, we made many very particular changes to the code and configuration to enhance security and privacy," says the company's marketing bumpf. These changes extend to disabling third-party cookies and other functions that supposedly resolve navigation errors or predict URLs – functions which leak data to Google, as the post by Jeremiah Grossman, WhiteHat Security's CTO, explains.

Browser configurations always involve a trade-off between privacy and convenience. WhiteHat Aviator has gone for the most strict privacy option and while this would be welcomed by the most privacy-conscious it's not for everyone, because it would make sites that use cookies hard to use, for example.

Early reactions to the release of the browser software was mostly positive apart from some quibbles from security researchers about why ‪Aviator‬ isn't open source or released as a configuration guide, rather than as a software build.

WhiteHat Aviator, with only a Mac OS X version currently available, can be downloaded here as a 48MB download. ®

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