Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Virtualization Authors: Alena Prokharchyk, Carmen Gonzalez, Hovhannes Avoyan, Liz McMillan, Roger Strukhoff

Related Topics: Security, Wireless, Microservices Journal, ColdFusion, Websphere, Weblogic, Linux, Open Source, Virtualization, AJAX & REA, Web 2.0, Open Web, Oracle, HP, Cloud Expo, Apache, GovIT

Security: Interview

Bulletproofing the WebSocket Wire Protocol

There's been a flurry of discussion this week among Internet & Web standards experts about the WebSocket communications protocol

Web Security Journal: There's been a flurry of discussion this week among Internet and Web standards heavy-hitters around WebSocket, the new communications protocol supported in Chrome 4 and Safari 5. What was the main issue? Is there some kind of fundamental security vulnerability with the WebSocket (WS) protocol?

John Fallows: When surfing the Web, our browsers may communicate with Web servers via HTTP proxies that deliver many benefits, such as providing previously cached Web content more efficiently than repeatedly contacting the target server. These proxies may be either explicitly configured at the browser or they may form part of the general network topology to intercept the communication path implicitly. Securely encrypted Web communication cannot be intercepted by such proxies.

Members of the Hypertext Bidirectional (HyBi) IETF Working Group recently completed a study to test the vulnerabilities of these implicit, intercepting HTTP proxies. The study found that the raw socket capabilities of Flash and Java could be used to mount an attack on these intercepting HTTP proxies, such that an attacker might be able to influence the contents of the cache and change the behavior of specific sites for users accessing those sites through the same intercepting HTTP proxy.

The results showed that of the 47,338 intercepting HTTP proxies tested with the unencrypted WebSocket handshake alone, 0.37% and 0.017% were found vulnerable for the two specific attacks described in the study.

Web Security Journal: If the flaw lies not in WebSockets, but in some particular type of proxies, why are commentators inclining towards discussing WebSockets and only WebSockets?

Fallows: If all intercepting HTTP proxies correctly implemented the HTTP standard, then the 101 Switching Protocols response used by WebSocket handshake would be both sufficient and elegant.

Even though these intercepting HTTP proxies vulnerabilities have been enabled by Flash and Java for a long time, they were reported in the study as part of the IETF working group design process for the WebSocket wire protocol, therefore commentators have been inclined to comment specifically about the WebSockets portion of this result.

In the short term, browser providers have elected to temporarily withdraw the JavaScript WebSocket API from deployed browser implementations until they and others in the IETF working group reach agreement on how to bulletproof the WebSocket wire protocol to handle even buggy implementations of intercepting HTTP proxies. There are already proposals in place so I anticipate a timely resolution early next year.

Web Security Journal: The tests that spurred Mozilla and Opera to disable WebSockets as the default were done with Java and Flash clients. That means presumably that this issue has been around long before WebSockets? Why hasn't it been caught and dealt with before?

Fallows: The WebSocket wire protocol design effort has brought together a huge community of experts to deliver this functionality such that it can be deployed on a global scale, which necessitates such experiments to validate the standards compliance of deployed HTTP proxy infrastructure.

It will be interesting to see how Adobe and Oracle respond to address the vulnerabilities enabled by raw socket access in Flash and Java. Perhaps this will encourage them to adopt WebSockets as a native part of their platform, and have a more restrictive policy on raw socket access for Web deployments of their plug-in technologies.

Web Security Journal: What's the exact current status, then? The protocol is being standardized by the IETF as we speak, but what about the WebSocket API overall? What's its status vis-a-vis the W3C?

Fallows: The W3C JavaScript WebSocket API remains unchanged in its definition. However, browser providers await resolution of the WebSocket wire protocol at the IETF before deploying an implementation.

Web Security Journal: So is it accurate to describe WebSockets - still - as an early stage specification at the moment?

Fallows: The WebSocket wire protocol is currently in the IETF Internet Draft stage, and there is no shortage of support or dedication in the Hypertext Bidirectional Working Group to reach completion in a timely manner.

Web Security Journal: You mentioned earlier that there's no real barrier to improving the WebSocket protocol the moment it is bulletproofed to withstand broken infrastructure, since such an improvement can simply be included in the latest update of whatever browser a user is using. But the creator of JavaScript, Brendan Eich, has warned that we might end up with what he calls "version skew" because users won't necessarily switch browsers just to get the latest version of WS. He asks, rhetorically: "Are we going to synchronize Firefox's release cycle with Chrome's? Is Opera? Is Safari?" Isn't that a valid concern?

Fallows: Web browsers have always innovated beyond the standards, in part to differentiate themselves and in part to drive the standards forward with the benefit of real-world experience. WebSocket is a good example of that, having evolved beyond both Ajax and Comet, as well as raw socket communication provided by plug-ins. If we are careful to provide a stable and extensible WebSocket base, as was achieved with HTTP, then I would fully expect to see browsers implementing custom enhancements to that base, and it will be the responsibility of WebSocket gateway providers to support for those enhancements.

Web Security Journal: Mozilla, despite disabling it as the default in Firefox 4, says it is "excited" by WebSockets. Why is such a major browser player "excited" - what is it about WebSockets that gets a major Internet force like the Mozilla Foundation to be so upbeat about its potential?

Fallows: WebSockets, and HTML5 in general, represent a leap forward for the Web application platform and it is certainly an "exciting" time for all of us using the Web today. For decades we have seen the evolution of Web applications with gradually increasing interactivity getting closer and closer to their desktop installed counterparts. WebSockets allows us to add the final piece of that puzzle, providing desktop class TCP network connectivity while traversing the HTTP-constrained infrastructure of the Web. A new breed of applications can now be built using WebSocket with a fraction of the server-side infrastructure costs, optimized network bandwidth utilization and more immediate delivery of time-sensitive information.

Web Security Journal: And where does the WebSocket protocol sit in terms of HTML5 specification?

The WebSocket wire protocol is governed by the IETF who manage many of the world's protocols like HTTP, FTP, SMTP, and others.

The W3C standards body maintains the both HTML5 specification and the WebSocket API specification which defines how JavaScript applications can leverage WebSocket functionality.

Browser providers depend on both standards to fully deliver WebSocket functionality.

Web Security Journal: Adam Barth, whose paper on a possible exploit of transparent proxies sparked this latest discussion, has also described a handshake for the WebSocket protocol that resists cross-protocol attacks. Is that the direction the IETF will go do you think?

Fallows: Ultimately there are a few ways to proceed that balance HTTP compatibility with strategies to overcome non-compliant HTTP proxies. Given that the same study demonstrated no successful attacks on Adam's proposed enhancement to the WebSocket handshake, it seems to be a very strong candidate as we move forward.

Web Security Journal: Can't a WebSocket connection simply be encrypted? Wouldn't that render this whole issue moot - or is that too simplistic?

Fallows: The attacks identified by Adam Barth's paper would not be possible using an encrypted WebSocket connection because the HTTP proxy would not be able to see the encrypted wire traffic and could therefore not be confused into triggering the buggy behavior. If the browser providers restricted encrypted-only access to WebSockets then this issue could be avoided.

Web Security Journal: So from a Kaazing perspective, then, is it your intention to propagate the world with WebSockets and then go to sleep with the feeling of a job well done, or is the propagation of WS gateways the means to some other kind of business goal?

Fallows: At Kaazing, we believe that WebSockets is the beginning of a new future for Web applications as we move from the disconnected world of yesterday to the always connected, always up-to-date world we live in today. We understand that while WebSockets provide the foundation of that new beginning, the majority of the new capabilities lie in how you use WebSocket to support higher-level protocols that make it straightforward to solve technical challenges that would have taken significantly more effort to achieve otherwise.

Our goals are to help to world transition to this new standard easily and efficiently, and continue to deliver solutions that eliminate the unnecessary architectural complexity found in many Web applications today.

Web Security Journal: And is anybody yet finding that they can make more money, or spend less, because of Kaazing's offerings? Are there real-world implementations at all?

Fallows: We have customers in the Financial Services, Sports Betting, and Online Auctions markets that have used our technology to reduce infrastructure costs, reduce time-to-market, improve end-user experience and drive their revenues more efficiently.

Web Security Journal: What, in your view, is the best way of channeling developers' interest in experimenting with what a WebSocket gateway can do for their architecture? How can someone who is not yet au fait with the technbology most easily play catch-up?

Fallows: The WebSocket.org site is dedicated to explaining the various aspects of WebSocket technology and would be a useful starting point for those wishing to read up. It contains links to the relevant WebSocket API and wire protocol specifications, including a discussion of the many benefits of WebSockets.

A developer download of Kaazing WebSocket Gateway is also freely available from kaazing.com. This delivers emulation of the standard WebSocket API for all browsers. So in the interim until browser providers re-enable WebSockets, developers can still experiment with the same WebSocket APIs in both current and older browsers that will prepare them for the future of Web communication.

More Stories By Security News Desk

SYS-CON's Security News desk trawls the world of security for news of software, hardware, products, and services that seems likely to be of interest to infosec professionals and summarizes them for easy assimilation by busy IT managers and staff.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
As enterprises move to all-IP networks and cloud-based applications, communications service providers (CSPs) – facing increased competition from over-the-top providers delivering content via the Internet and independently of CSPs – must be able to offer seamless cloud-based communication and collaboration solutions that can scale for small, midsize, and large enterprises, as well as public sector organizations, in order to keep and grow market share. The latest version of Oracle Communications Unified Communications Suite gives CSPs the capability to do just that. In addition, its integration ...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @ThingsExpo Blog launched with 7,788 original stories. @ThingsExpo Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @ThingsExpo Blog can be bookmarked. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The world's leading Cloud event, Cloud Expo has launched Microservices Journal on the SYS-CON.com portal, featuring over 19,000 original articles, news stories, features, and blog entries. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. Microservices Journal offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Follow new article posts on Twitter at @MicroservicesE
SYS-CON Events announced today that robomq.io will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. robomq.io is an interoperable and composable platform that connects any device to any application. It helps systems integrators and the solution providers build new and innovative products and service for industries requiring monitoring or intelligence from devices and sensors.
Wearable technology was dominant at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) , and MWC was no exception to this trend. New versions of favorites, such as the Samsung Gear (three new products were released: the Gear 2, the Gear 2 Neo and the Gear Fit), shared the limelight with new wearables like Pebble Time Steel (the new premium version of the company’s previously released smartwatch) and the LG Watch Urbane. The most dramatic difference at MWC was an emphasis on presenting wearables as fashion accessories and moving away from the original clunky technology associated with t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Litmus Automation will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Litmus Automation’s vision is to provide a solution for companies that are in a rush to embrace the disruptive Internet of Things technology and leverage it for real business challenges. Litmus Automation simplifies the complexity of connected devices applications with Loop, a secure and scalable cloud platform.
In 2015, 4.9 billion connected "things" will be in use. By 2020, Gartner forecasts this amount to be 25 billion, a 410 percent increase in just five years. How will businesses handle this rapid growth of data? Hadoop will continue to improve its technology to meet business demands, by enabling businesses to access/analyze data in real time, when and where they need it. Cloudera's Chief Technologist, Eli Collins, will discuss how Big Data is keeping up with today's data demands and how in the future, data and analytics will be pervasive, embedded into every workflow, application and infra...
As Marc Andreessen says software is eating the world. Everything is rapidly moving toward being software-defined – from our phones and cars through our washing machines to the datacenter. However, there are larger challenges when implementing software defined on a larger scale - when building software defined infrastructure. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Boyan Ivanov, CEO of StorPool, will provide some practical insights on what, how and why when implementing "software-defined" in the datacenter.
So I guess we’ve officially entered a new era of lean and mean. I say this with the announcement of Ubuntu Snappy Core, “designed for lightweight cloud container hosts running Docker and for smart devices,” according to Canonical. “Snappy Ubuntu Core is the smallest Ubuntu available, designed for security and efficiency in devices or on the cloud.” This first version of Snappy Ubuntu Core features secure app containment and Docker 1.6 (1.5 in main release), is available on public clouds, and for ARM and x86 devices on several IoT boards. It’s a Trend! This announcement comes just as...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vicom Computer Services, Inc., a provider of technology and service solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. They are located at booth #427. Vicom Computer Services, Inc. is a progressive leader in the technology industry for over 30 years. Headquartered in the NY Metropolitan area. Vicom provides products and services based on today’s requirements around Unified Networks, Cloud Computing strategies, Virtualization around Software defined Data Ce...
SYS-CON Events announced today that AIC, a leading provider of OEM/ODM server and storage solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. AIC is a leading provider of both standard OTS, off-the-shelf, and OEM/ODM server and storage solutions. With expert in-house design capabilities, validation, manufacturing and production, AIC's broad selection of products are highly flexible and are configurable to any form factor or custom configuration. AIC leads the industry with nearly 20 years of ...
How is unified communications transforming the way businesses operate? In his session at WebRTC Summit, Arvind Rangarajan, Director of Product Marketing at BroadSoft, will discuss how to extend unified communications experience outside the enterprise through WebRTC. He will also review use cases across different industry verticals. Arvind Rangarajan is Director, Product Marketing at BroadSoft. He has over 19 years of experience in the telecommunications industry in various roles such as Software Development, Product Management and Product Marketing, applied across Wireless, Unified Communic...
SYS-CON Events announced today the IoT Bootcamp – Jumpstart Your IoT Strategy, being held June 9–10, 2015, in conjunction with 16th Cloud Expo and Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Javits Center in New York City. This is your chance to jumpstart your IoT strategy. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but includes hands-on demos and walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of Do-It-Yourself IoT platforms including Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark and Intel Edison. You will also get an overview of cloud technologies s...
Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch of Docker's initial release in March of 2013, interest was revved up several notches. Then late last...
The only place to be June 9-11 is Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo 2015 East at the Javits Center in New York City. Join us there as delegates from all over the world come to listen to and engage with speakers & sponsors from the leading Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data companies. Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo are the leading events covering the booming market of Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data for the enterprise. Speakers from all over the world will be hand-picked for their ability to explore the economic strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Whether public, private, or in a hybrid form, clo...
Internet of Things (IoT) will be a hybrid ecosystem of diverse devices and sensors collaborating with operational and enterprise systems to create the next big application. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Bramh Gupta, founder and CEO of robomq.io, and Fred Yatzeck, principal architect leading product development at robomq.io, will discuss how choosing the right middleware and integration strategy from the get-go will enable IoT solution developers to adapt and grow with the industry, while at the same time reduce Time to Market (TTM) by using plug and play capabilities offered by a robust I...
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. He also discussed how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics discussed were barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold. Mike Kavis is Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Pa...
From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, shared some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, a...
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential Internet of Things Brand by Onalytica in the ‘The Internet of Things Landscape 2015: Top 100 Individuals and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed Twitter conversations around the #IoT debate to uncover the most influential brands and individuals driving the conversation. Onalytica captured data from 56,224 users. The PageRank based methodology they use to extract influencers on a particular topic (tweets mentioning #InternetofThings or #IoT in this case) takes into account the number and quality of contextual references that a user receives.
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? Join this panel of experts as they peel away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud environment, and we must architect and code accordingly. At the very least, you’ll have no problem filling in your buzzword bingo cards.