JavaScript, Browser Extensions, Viruses, Social Issues, Privacy, Anonymous Remailers

JavaScript does not have any formal security model, but it does have a long history of leaky implementations. Each vendor handles security in a different way. For example, Netscape Navigator version 2 used something akin to the Java model, but by version 4 that had been abandoned for a code-signing model.

The fundamental problem is that letting foreign code run on your machine is asking for trouble. From a security standpoint, it is like inviting a burglar into your house and then trying to watch him carefully so he cannot escape from the kitchen into the living room. If something unexpected happens and you are distracted for a moment, bad things can happen. The tension here is that mobile code allows flashy graphics and fast interaction, and many Web site designers think that this is much more important than security, especially when it is somebody else’s machine at risk.

Browser Extensions

As well as extending Web pages with code, there is a booming marketplace in browser extensions, add-ons, and plug-ins. They are computer programs that extend the functionality of Web browsers. Plug-ins often provide the capability to interpret or display a certain type of content, such as PDFs or Flash animations. Extensions and add-ons provide new browser features, such as better password management, or ways to interact with pages by, for example, marking them up or enabling easy shopping for related items.

Installing an extension, add-on, or plug-in is as simple as coming across something you want when browsing and following the link to install the program. This action will cause code to be downloaded across the Internet and installed into the browser. All of these programs are written to frameworks that differ depending on the browser that is being enhanced. However, to a first approximation, they become part of the trusted computing base of the browser. That is, if the code that is installed is buggy, the entire browser can be compromised. 

There are two other obvious failure modes as well. The first is that the program may behave maliciously, for example, by gathering personal information and sending it to a remote server. For all the browser knows, the user installed the extension for precisely this purpose. The second problem is that plug-ins give the browser the ability to interpret new types of content. Often this content is a full blown programming language itself. PDF and Flash are good examples. When users view pages with PDF and Flash content, the plug-ins in their browser are executing the PDF and Flash code. That code had better be safe; often there are vulnerabilities that it can exploit. For all of these reasons, add-ons and plug-ins should only be installed as needed and only from trusted vendors.


Viruses are another form of mobile code. Only, unlike the examples above, viruses are not invited in at all. The difference between a virus and ordinary mobile code is that viruses are written to reproduce themselves. When a virus arrives, either via a Web page, an email attachment, or some other way, it usually starts out by infecting executable programs on the disk. When one of these programs is run, control is transferred to the virus, which usually tries to spread itself to other machines, for example, by emailing copies of itself to everyone in the victim’s email address book. Some viruses infect the boot sector of the hard disk, so when the machine is booted, the virus gets to run. Viruses have become a huge problem on the Internet and have caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage. There is no obvious solution. Perhaps a whole new generation of operating systems based on secure microkernels and tight compartmentalization of users, processes, and resources might help.


The Internet and its security technology is an area where social issues, public policy, and technology meet head on, often with huge consequences. Below we will just briefly examine three areas: privacy, freedom of speech, and copyright. Needless to say, we can only scratch the surface. For additional reading, see Anderson (2008a), Garfinkel with Spafford (2002), and Schneier (2004). The Internet is also full of material. Just type words such as ‘‘privacy,’’ ‘‘censorship,’’ and ‘‘copyright’’ into any search engine. Also, see this book’s Web site for some links. It is at


Do people have a right to privacy? Good question. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from searching people’s houses, papers, and effects without good reason, and goes on to restrict the circumstances under which search warrants shall be issued. Thus, privacy has been on the public agenda for over 200 years, at least in the U.S.

What has changed in the past decade is both the ease with which governments can spy on their citizens and the ease with which the citizens can prevent such spying. In the 18th century, for the government to search a citizen’s papers, it had to send out a policeman on a horse to go to the citizen’s farm demanding to see certain documents. It was a cumbersome procedure. Nowadays, telephone companies and Internet providers readily provide wiretaps when presented with search warrants. It makes life much easier for the policeman and there is no danger of falling off a horse.

Cryptography changes all that. Anybody who goes to the trouble of downloading and installing PGP and who uses a well-guarded alien-strength key can be fairly sure that nobody in the known universe can read his email, search warrant or no search warrant. Governments well understand this and do not like it. Real privacy means it is much harder for them to spy on criminals of all stripes, but it is also much harder to spy on journalists and political opponents. Consequently, some governments restrict or forbid the use or export of cryptography. In France, for example, prior to 1999, all cryptography was banned unless the government was given the keys.

France was not alone. In April 1993, the U.S. Government announced its intention to make a hardware cryptoprocessor, the clipper chip, the standard for all networked communication. It was said that this would guarantee citizens’ privacy. It also mentioned that the chip provided the government with the ability to decrypt all traffic via a scheme called key escrow, which allowed the government access to all the keys. However, the government promised only to snoop when it had a valid search warrant. Needless to say, a huge furor ensued, with privacy advocates denouncing the whole plan and law enforcement officials praising it. Eventually, the government backed down and dropped the idea.

A large amount of information about electronic privacy is available at the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Web site,

Anonymous Remailers

PGP, SSL, and other technologies make it possible for two parties to establish secure, authenticated communication, free from third-party surveillance and interference. However, sometimes privacy is best served by not having authentication, in fact, by making communication anonymous. The anonymity may be desired for point-to-point messages, newsgroups, or both.

Let us consider some examples. First, political dissidents living under authoritarian regimes often wish to communicate anonymously to escape being jailed or killed. Second, wrongdoing in many corporate, educational, governmental, and other organizations has often been exposed by whistleblowers, who frequently prefer to remain anonymous to avoid retribution. Third, people with unpopular social, political, or religious views may wish to communicate with each other via email or newsgroups without exposing themselves. Fourth, people may wish to discuss alcoholism, mental illness, sexual harassment, child abuse, or being a member of a persecuted minority in a newsgroup without having to go public. Numerous other examples exist, of course.

Let us consider a specific example. In the 1990s, some critics of a nontraditional religious group posted their views to a USENET newsgroup via an anonymous remailer. This server allowed users to create pseudonyms and send email to the server, which then remailed or re-posted them using the pseudonyms, so no one could tell where the messages really came from. Some postings revealed what the religious group claimed were trade secrets and copyrighted documents. The religious group responded by telling local authorities that its trade secrets had been disclosed and its copyright infringed, both of which were crimes where the server was located. A court case followed and the server operator was compelled to turn over the mapping information that revealed the true identities of the persons who had made the postings. (Incidentally, this was not the first time that a religious group was unhappy when someone leaked its trade secrets: William Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536 for translating the Bible into English).

A substantial segment of the Internet community was completely outraged by this breach of confidentiality. The conclusion that everyone drew is that an anonymous remailer that stores a mapping between real email addresses and pseudonyms (now called a type 1 remailer) is not worth much. This case stimulated various people into designing anonymous remailers that could withstand subpoena attacks.

These new remailers, often called cypherpunk remailers, work as follows. The user produces an email message, complete with RFC 822 headers (except From:, of course), encrypts it with the remailer’s public key, and sends it to the remailer. There the outer RFC 822 headers are stripped off, the content is decrypted and the message is remailed. The remailer has no accounts and maintains no logs, so even if the server is later confiscated, it retains no trace of messages that have passed through it.

Many users who wish anonymity chain their requests through multiple anonymous remailers, as shown in Fig. 8-53. Here, Alice wants to send Bob a really, really, really anonymous Valentine’s Day card, so she uses three remailers. She composes the message, M, and puts a header on it containing Bob’s email address. Then she encrypts the whole thing with remailer 3’s public key, E3 (indicated by horizontal hatching). To this she prepends a header with remailer 3’s email address in plaintext. This is the message shown between remailers 2 and 3 in the figure.

Then she encrypts this message with remailer 2’s public key, E2 (indicated by vertical hatching) and prepends a plaintext header containing remailer 2’s email address. This message is shown between 1 and 2 in Fig. 8-53. Finally, she encrypts the entire message with remailer 1’s public key, E1, and prepends a plaintext header with remailer 1’s email address. This is the message shown to the right of Alice in the figure and this is the message she actually transmits.

JavaScript, Browser Extensions, Viruses, Social Issues, Privacy, Anonymous Remailers

When the message hits remailer 1, the outer header is stripped off. The body is decrypted and then emailed to remailer 2. Similar steps occur at the other two remailers.

Although it is extremely difficult for anyone to trace the final message back to Alice, many remailers take additional safety precautions. For example, they may hold messages for a random time, add or remove junk at the end of a message, and reorder messages, all to make it harder for anyone to tell which message output by a remailer corresponds to which input, in order to thwart traffic analysis. For a description of this kind of remailer, see Mazie`res and Kaashoek (1998).

Anonymity is not restricted to email. Services also exist that allow anonymous Web surfing using the same form of layered path in which one node only knows the next node in the chain. This method is called onion routing because each node peels off another layer of the onion to determine where to forward the packet next. The user configures his browser to use the anonymizer service as a proxy. Tor is a well-known example of such a system (Dingledine et al., 2004). Henceforth, all HTTP requests go through the anonymizer network, which requests the page and sends it back. The Web site sees an exit node of the anonymizer network as the source of the request, not the user. As long as the anonymizer network refrains from keeping a log, after the fact no one can determine who requested which page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ans: Secure naming is a good start, but there is much more to Web security. The next step is secure connections. We will now look at how secure connections can be achieved. Nothing involving security is simple and this is not either view more..
Ans: We have just studied two important areas where security is needed: communications and email. You can think of these as the soup and appetizer. Now it is time for the main course: Web security view more..
Ans: When an email message is sent between two distant sites, it will generally transit dozens of machines on the way. Any of these can read and record the message for future use. In practice, privacy is nonexistent, despite what many people think. view more..
Ans: JavaScript does not have any formal security model, but it does have a long history of leaky implementations. Each vendor handles security in a different way. For example, Netscape Navigator version 2 used something akin to the Java model, but by version 4 that had been abandoned for a code-signing model. view more..
Ans: Privacy relates to individuals wanting to restrict what other people can see about them. A second key social issue is freedom of speech, and its opposite, censorship, which is about governments wanting to restrict what individuals can read and publish. With the Web containing millions and millions of pages, it has become a censor’s paradise. Depending on the nature and ideology of the regime, banned material may include Web sites containing any of the following: view more..

Rating - NAN/5