Java IoT Authors: Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Hollis Tibbetts, Sematext Blog

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Mobile IoT, Microservices Expo, ColdFusion, IBM Cloud, Weblogic, Linux Containers, Open Source Cloud, Containers Expo Blog, IoT User Interface, Agile Computing, Release Management , Recurring Revenue, Log Management, @CloudExpo, Apache, Government Cloud

Cloud 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
SYS-CON Events announced today that Roundee / LinearHub will exhibit at the WebRTC Summit at @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LinearHub provides Roundee Service, a smart platform for enterprise video conferencing with enhanced features such as automatic recording and transcription service. Slack users can integrate Roundee to their team via Slack’s App Directory, and '/roundee' command lets your video conference ...
Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, will draw together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Coalfire will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Coalfire is the trusted leader in cybersecurity risk management and compliance services. Coalfire integrates advisory and technical assessments and recommendations to the corporate directors, executives, boards, and IT organizations for global brands and organizations in the technology, cloud, health...
As ridesharing competitors and enhanced services increase, notable changes are occurring in the transportation model. Despite the cost-effective means and flexibility of ridesharing, both drivers and users will need to be aware of the connected environment and how it will impact the ridesharing experience. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Timothy Evavold, Executive Director Automotive at Covisint, will discuss key challenges and solutions to powering a ride sharing and/or multimodal model in the a...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, will discuss how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team a...
A completely new computing platform is on the horizon. They’re called Microservers by some, ARM Servers by others, and sometimes even ARM-based Servers. No matter what you call them, Microservers will have a huge impact on the data center and on server computing in general. Although few people are familiar with Microservers today, their impact will be felt very soon. This is a new category of computing platform that is available today and is predicted to have triple-digit growth rates for some ...
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
The Internet of Things (IoT), in all its myriad manifestations, has great potential. Much of that potential comes from the evolving data management and analytic (DMA) technologies and processes that allow us to gain insight from all of the IoT data that can be generated and gathered. This potential may never be met as those data sets are tied to specific industry verticals and single markets, with no clear way to use IoT data and sensor analytics to fulfill the hype being given the IoT today.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Numerex Corp, a leading provider of managed enterprise solutions enabling the Internet of Things (IoT), will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Numerex Corp. (NASDAQ:NMRX) is a leading provider of managed enterprise solutions enabling the Internet of Things (IoT). The Company's solutions produce new revenue streams or create operating...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MathFreeOn will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MathFreeOn is Software as a Service (SaaS) used in Engineering and Math education. Write scripts and solve math problems online. MathFreeOn provides online courses for beginners or amateurs who have difficulties in writing scripts. In accordance with various mathematical topics, there are more tha...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
@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 ...
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform and how we integrate our thinking to solve complicated problems. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm ...
Although it has gained significant traction in the consumer space, IoT is still in the early stages of adoption in enterprises environments. However, many companies are working on initiatives like Industry 4.0 that includes IoT as one of the key disruptive technologies expected to reshape businesses of tomorrow. The key challenges will be availability, robustness and reliability of networks that connect devices in a business environment. Software Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is expected to...
OnProcess Technology has announced it will be a featured speaker at @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1 - 3, 2016, in Santa Clara, California. Dan Gettens, OnProcess’ Chief Analytics Officer, will discuss how Internet of Things (IoT) data can be leveraged to predict product failures, improve uptime and slash costly inventory stock. @ThingsExpo is an annual gathering of IoT and cloud developers, practitioners and thought-leaders who exchange ideas and insights on topics ranging from Big Data in...
Developing software for the Internet of Things (IoT) comes with its own set of challenges. Security, privacy, and unified standards are a few key issues. In addition, each IoT product is comprised of (at least) three separate application components: the software embedded in the device, the back-end service, and the mobile application for the end user’s controls. Each component is developed by a different team, using different technologies and practices, and deployed to a different stack/target –...
Virgil consists of an open-source encryption library, which implements Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS) and Elliptic Curve Integrated Encryption Scheme (ECIES) (including RSA schema), a Key Management API, and a cloud-based Key Management Service (Virgil Keys). The Virgil Keys Service consists of a public key service and a private key escrow service. 

SYS-CON Events announced today that CDS Global Cloud, an Infrastructure as a Service provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CDS Global Cloud is an IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) provider specializing in solutions for e-commerce, internet gaming, online education and other internet applications. With a growing number of data centers and network points around the world, ...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Big Data has been changing the world. IoT fuels the further transformation recently. How are Big Data and IoT related? In his session at @BigDataExpo, Tony Shan, a renowned visionary and thought leader, will explore the interplay of Big Data and IoT. He will anatomize Big Data and IoT separately in terms of what, which, why, where, when, who, how and how much. He will then analyze the relationship between IoT and Big Data, specifically the drilldown of how the 4Vs of Big Data (Volume, Variety,...