Tag Archives: noscript

Firefox preferences for greater privacy

Although browser addons such as NoScript and Ghostery (which is cross-browser with some limitations) provide great protection against tracking, some people prefer not to have to install plugins. Firefox does have configuration options to somewhat limit what trackers can do. You can follow the knowledge base article here to learn how to disable 3rd party cookies (the default setting in Safari, which Google was caught circumventing).

If you’re up to it, you also simply open up the almighty “about:config” and tinker with the following settings (some of which aren’t available in the browser UI):

  • network.cookie.cookieBehavior with values:
    • “0″: allow all cookies (default)
    • “1″: don’t allow 3rd party cookies
    • “2″: don’t allow any cookies
  • network.cookie.thirdparty.lifetimePolicy with values:
    • “0″: keep cookies for as long as the server asks
    • “1″: ask the user on each and every cookie set (try it out if only for fun, you’d be surprise how much cookies are set)
    • “2″: cookie gets deleted when you close your browser (i.e. at the end of the session)
    • “3″: cookies have a lifetime as defined in the “network.cookie.lifetime.days ” preference
  • network.cookie.thirdparty.sessionOnly: set to “true” or “false”
  • privacy.donottrackheader.enabled: set to “false” (default) or “true”, which gently asks sites not to track you

Setting “network.cookie.thirdparty.sessionOnly” to “true” is a low-impact change which should stop tracking-companies (think Media6degrees or Quantcast) from following you around the web.

If you want to stop Facebook, Google & Co to stop tracking you around the web as well, the above setting will not suffice. You should either log out of their sites as soon as you’ve done your business there or set “network.cookie.cookieBehavior” to “1″ (which will break their “social widgets”). Or you can install Ghostery or NoScript, off course.

Who’s re-baking my cookies?

While tinkering with JavaScript at work for a performance-optimization, we encountered an annoying cookie-related problem. We wanted to check if a certain name/value was present in the cookie and not do “complicated and unneeded backend stuff” if it was not. But that didn’t always work, because in some browsers the cookie had the secure flag set and the JS-check was done while in HTTP.

It took some time, digging and soul-searching, but it turned out to work fine for all but me. The reason: NoScript! My favorite Firefox Addon has, so I learned, “Automatic Secure Cookie Management” as a countermeasure against HTTPS cookie hijacking (by setting cookies “secure” if they’re set in HTTPS and if they contain something resembling a session-id?). And that feature indeed can break stuff.

So if you’re using NoScript and you’re running into weird cookie-related problems: try with “Automatic Secure Cookie Management” turned off, or add the site you’re on as an exception and you might be good to go.

Remove Facebook like buttons with NoScript

If you don’t like Facebook’s omnipresent Like widgets (there were already plenty of reasons why not to like them and last week’s cookie-debacle only added to that conclusion) and if you already use NoScript so you don’t want to install another plugin (like Ghostery, which reports any tracking activity and allows you to block it), you can put this in NoScript’s ABE user ruleset (NoScript Options -> advanced -> ABE);

# Allow Facebook scripts and objects to be included only
# from Facebook pages
Site .facebook.com .fbcdn.net .facebook.net
Accept from .facebook.com .fbcdn.net .facebook.net

This tells NoScript to allow Facebook scripts (you know, to visit facebook.com), but to stop them from being included in other sites. I guess with NoScript’s surrogate scripts one might even be able to replace Facebook’s Like-widget with one that just shows the old-fashioned (and harmless)  share-button. Now wouldn’t that be fun?

Venus doesn’t love noscript

Damn, Venus doesn’t love noscript!

You’ve got no clue what I’m rambling about, do you? Well, allow me to explain;

So now you know the context, let me reiterate; Venus doesn’t treat noscript the way it should! It not only strips out javascript as it should (are you listening tt-rss?) but it replaces noscript-tags and all HTML inside with escaped HTML (with HTML-entities actually). And that, my beloved ones, means that the HTML that WP YouTube Lyte generates, doesn’t work properly on Venus-based planets.

So I started looking at the Venus source and mailed with Planet Grep’s Wouter Verhelst to solve this issue. At first sight the solution seemed pretty straightforward; Venus shouldn’t ‘escape’ noscript but should instead just strip the opening and closing noscript-tag. Wouter installed a small sed-filter I wrote and added noscript to the whitelist of Venus’s sanitizer (which is based on Universal Feed Parser) and … it did not work.

The problem apperantly is with another sanitizing component in Venus; html5lib. Sam Ruby, the developer of Venus, wrote on the mailinglist;

There are multiple sanitization passes involved here. [...] The html5parser seems to think that noscript is to be parsed as text only, which would result in the behavior that you describe.  Looking at the current HTML5 spec, it appears that this does not match the expected behavior — so perhaps that changed too.

So I started looking at html5lib and … well, I’m stuck, html5lib is a pretty complex beast for a smalltime non-developer to dive into. So earlier today I turned to the html5lib discussion list to ask how sanitization can be configured not to escape noscript, let’s hope someone will enlighten me. Because until then those poor Planet Greppers won’t be able to see (a thumbnail of) Al Jarreau’s great version of Take Five way back in 1976:

Al Jarreau 1976 -Take Five

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Browser choice, vacuming & security for father-in-laws

Being “the computer guy” in the family might be a pain in the ass sometimes, but trying to help out users that are not tech savvy can be very revealing. Yesterday my father-in-law asked me to take a look at his computer, there was something about the browser that was not right. Turned out he let Google lure him into downloading Chrome and making it the default browser. What bothered him most about Chrome was the lack of menu’s (file|edit|…|help), while a lot of the us (the in-crowd) consider the minimal use of chrome a plus. Usability is not only about clean, simple UI’s, but also about not breaking novice users’ expectations of how your application looks and behaves.

Anyway, I showed him IE8 and Firefox 3.5 (both were installed as well) and he recognized Firefox as the browser he was most familiar with. So I uninstalled Chrome, hid IE8, upgraded him to FF 3.6 and also installed the “Vacuum Places improved” and NoScript add-ons.

Vacuum Places improved” cleans up the places sqlite database where Firefox stores bookmarks and history and which can become very big over time.  When tweaking the options (“hide icon” and “auto-vacuum every 20 browser starts”) it was a great way to invisibly tune browser performance, but it turns out Firefox 3.6 vacuums places.sqlite automatically (when  idle, every 1 to 2 months). So Pierre, if you ever read this; remind me to uninstall “Vacuum Places improved” next time! :)

NoScript is a whole other beast; it is a add-on for the security-conscious tech-head, which by default disables javascript, flash, java, … It’s a great add-on, but it is very disruptive and as such totally unfit for novice users. Unless you change the configuration off course, because modifying these options makes NoScript a must-have addon for both you and your grandma;

  • General: check “Scripts Globally Allowed (dangerous)”
  • Embeddings: uncheck the 8 “Forbid” options, check both “untrusted” and “trusted” for Clearclick protection
  • Appearance: uncheck “Status bar icon”, “Status bar label” and “Contextual menu”
  • Advanced/XSS: check “Sanitize cross-site suspicious requests”

Although the first option specifically claims it is dangerous to do so, these changes render NoScript into an add-on that provides a lot of extra security (protecting against clickjacking, cross-site scripting and implementing support for x-frame-options and Strict Transport Security) without bothering users with new UI-elements containing incomprehensible questions, messages or options.

Because web security is not only about protecting against threats, but also about not breaking novice users’ expectations of how your secured browser (and the web) looks and behaves.

Browser enforced web application security; IE8 safest?

microsoft internet explorer 8 logoWith a notoriously bad reputation for security (or the lack thereof) in Internet Explorer, Microsoft claims to have invested a lot in IE8 security in general and specifically in browser enforced website security. Indeed, according to the product site, IE8:

[...] helps protect you from today’s threats, including malware and phishing, as well as emerging threats that can compromise your computer without your knowledge. Other browsers either don’t offer you this level of protection or require you to download and configure third-party add-ons to get it, but with Internet Explorer 8 you get it right out of the box, and turned on by default.

And in August Microsoft proudly pointed to results of a (MS commissioned) study by NSSLabs, which stated that IE8 blocked 81% of malware download attempts vs. 27% for FF3 (and even less for other browsers) and 83% of phishing attacks vs. 80% for FF3 (and 54% for Opera 10 and less for Chrome and Safari).

So there you have it, IE8 is the safest browser around, no? Well, that would be jumping to conclusions; IE8 still has it’s fair share of browser security issues (but don’t they all) and the dreaded security-hole called ActiveX is still supported as well. Let’s just focus at how IE8 tries to protect you from malicious websites and compare that functionality with what the competition has to offer.

Smartscreen Filter

Smartscreen filter is the name for the Microsoft technology that uses an “in-the-cloud reputation database” which is contacted by the browser to assess the trustworthiness of a URL. Using that information, access to dangerous sites and downloads of malware can be blocked. The system is very similar to Google Safe Browsing that is implemented in Firefox, Chrome and Safari, but Smartscreen seems to be better in stopping malware from being downloaded. On the other hand the 2nd NSSlabs-study deemed both as effective when it comes to blocking access to phishing sites. Based on these (MS sponsored) results one could conclude that IE8 might have an advantage over the competition, but I for one would be very interested in an updated version of these tests with cooperation from the other browser-makers.


IE8′s XSS-filter offers protection against type1 cross-site scripting attacks. Although it offers no protection against (less common) type0 and type2 xss-attacks, the mere fact that IE8 does offer out of the box XSS-protection is a big thing. Except … except apperantly there’s a serious bug in IE8′s XSS-filter, that can be abused to do cross-site scripting. Microsoft has not yet confirmed or fixed the bug,  leading some sites (e.g. Google) to disable the XSS-filter by adding “X-XSS-Protection: 0” to the http response header. Now isn’t that ironic?

Clickjacking defense

Microsoft also included clickjacking defense in IE8, by letting website owners define whether or not their pages are allowed to be included in (i)frames. This can be done by simply adding “x-frame-options” to the http response header with values “deny” to deny a page from being shown in any frame and “sameorigin” to limit framing to pages from the same domain. x-frame-options however does not protect against clickjacking with flash or other embeds.

But where’s the competition?

So what’s available in Firefox, Chrome and Safari apart from the Google Safe Browsing implementation? Nothing much up until now, I’m afraid …

At Mozilla smart guys are working on “Content security policy“. CSP is a declarative server-driven anti-XSS framework, with policies being pushed through HTTP headers. Although the policy may require non-trivial website changes because inline scripts will be disallowed by default, it certainly has potential (to the extend Microsoft is said to be interested). But CSP is not there yet, now is it?

Over at Google, engineers are including (type1) XSS-protection and support for the Strict Transport Security spec (forcing a browser to load a site only over HTTPS by issuing an http response header) in the dev-channel builds of Chrome 4. As some may have noticed while looking for Google Talk’s chatback badge last week, x-frame-options (as anti-clickjacking measure) has already been implemented in Safari4 and Chrome3 as well. So especially Google is trying to make some serious progress, but Chrome 4 can hardly be considered granny-ready, can it?

That leaves us Firefox with the NoScript extension, but I’ll come back to that combination in a minute.

IE8 the safest browser?

OK, this might hurt, but let’s give credit where credit is due; IE8 indeed seems to offer the best out of the box protection against malicious websites. It is the only browser to come with good phishing- and malware-blocking (Smartscreen) combined with (limited and currently broken) protection against some types of XSS and clickjacking-attacks. So thank you Redmond for setting the example!

The only alternative: Firefox + NoScript

Firefox does not offer the out of the box protection IE8 does, but when combined with the NoScript extension, it really is the only readily available alternative (Lynx not withstanding). NoScript offers superior protection against XSS, clickjacking and a host of other threats.

Even if you’re only vaguely security-conscious, installing Firefox and NoScript should really be your first choice. Depending on the level of protection you want, you can use the default but disruptive whitelist configuration (which blocks all javascript and flash) or switch to the less secure “Allow scripts globally” mode. But whatever configuration you choose, anti-XSS and clickjacking protection are always enabled.

It really is beyond me why NoScript’s Clearclick and anti-xss aren’t in Firefox by default, especially since they seem complementary to CSP, as they’re barely disruptive for a novice user and (last but not least) as Mozilla could easily one-up Microsoft this way? Anyone?

Warning: your computer might be infected!

noscript logo. lelijk beestje, dat script-monsterWarning: your computer might be infected while surfing the web! Because these days web criminals aren’t just attacking government or corporate servers any more, but your browser as well. That way they can steal/ manipulate your data or install other malware. Most of these attacks happen while you are surfing and all the anti-virus software and spyware-scanners in the world will not fully protect your system and data (as Clopin found out while cleaning multiple PC’s of his family). The good news? There are only two big threats: malicious javascript and your own utter stupidity. And both can easily be countered.

Although stupidity is normal, you should try to live by one simple rule: don’t download software. Just don’t. And if you really must, only install if it comes recommended by at least one trusted source such as a computer-literate friend or a high-profile tech website. But don’t download software because a flashing red text on some obscure website tells you your computer is “infected”. Don’t “install a new version of Flash Player” to see that free porn movie. Don’t download, don’t install. Don’t!

Protecting against evil javascript (and malicious html, css, flash, java, …) is another issue. Attacks such as XSS, XSRF or clickjacking are barely visible. You’ll be happily surfing, clicking hyperlinks left and right, logging into your favorite web-apps and before you know it your data has been stolen or tampered, a password was reset or someone gained access to one of your online accounts. Entirely disabling javascript is not an option (you need it for most of modern web-applications to run), but if you’re a security-conscious Firefox-user there’s an easy solution; Noscript.

Noscript is a Firefox-addon that simply blocks all code (Javascript, Flash, Java and Silverlight) from being executed, protecting you by default against almost all types of browser-based attack (“almost”, as I’ve seen a nice proof-of-concept of a history-stealing web-page that only uses CSS-trickery, which Noscript can’t block). If you’re on a site you trust, you simply tell Noscript to temporary or permanently allow javascript -and other code- for that site and you’re back in web2.0-land. It may take some getting used to (a.o. to build a good permanent whitelist to allow your default sites to function), but it’s a great tool that can even double as a flashblock and (to some extend) adblock plus replacement!

So, to summarize; don’t install software and install Noscript and all will (probably) be well.