Q4 2019 Summary from Chrome Security

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Andrew R. Whalley

Jan 29, 2020, 3:06:12 PM1/29/20
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As we start 2020 and look forward to a new year and a new decade, the Chrome Security Team took a moment to look back at the final quarter of 2019. 

The Safe Browsing team launched two features that significantly improve phishing protections available to Chrome users:

We reduced the false negative rate for Safe Browsing lookups in Chrome by launching real-time Safe Browsing lookups for users who have opted in to “Make Searches and Browsing better.” Early results are promising, with up to 55% more warnings shown to users who had this protection turned on, compared to those who did not.

A while ago we launched predictive phishing protections to warn users who are syncing history in Chrome when they enter their Google Account password into suspected phishing sites that try to steal their credentials. With the Chrome 79, we expanded this protection to everyone signed in to Chrome, even if you have not enabled Sync. In addition, this feature will now work for all the passwords that the user has stored in Chrome’s password manager; this will show an estimated 10 times more warnings daily. 

We also had two telemetry based launches for sending pings to Safe Browsing when users who have opted into Safe Browsing Extended Reporting focus on password fields and reuse their passwords on Android.

HTTPS adoption has risen dramatically, but many https:// pages still include http:// subresources — known as mixed content. In October, the Usable Security team  published a plan to eradicate mixed content from the web. The first phases of this plan started shipping in Chrome 79. In Chrome 79, we relocated the setting that allows users to load mixed content when it’s blocked by default. This setting used to be a shield icon in the Omnibox, and is now available in Site Settings instead. In Chrome 80, mixed audio and video will be automatically upgraded to https://, and they will be blocked if they fail to load. We started work on a web standard to codify these changes. See this article for how to fix mixed content if you run an affected website.

Website owners should keep their HTTPS configurations up-to-date with the latest security settings. Back in 2018, we (alongside other browsers) announced plans to remove support for legacy TLS versions 1.0 and 1.1. In October, we updated these plans to announce the specific UI treatments that we’ll use for this deprecation. Starting in January 2020, Chrome 79 will label affected websites with a “Not Secure” chip in the omnibox. Chrome 81 will show a full-page error. Make sure your server supports TLS >=1.2 to avoid this warning treatment.

To continue to polish our security UI, we iterated on our warning for lookalike domains to make the warning more understandable. We introduced a new gray triangle icon for http:// sites to make a clearer distinction between http:// and https://. This icon will appear for some users as part of a small-scale experiment in Chrome 80. Finally, we cleaned up a large backlog of low severity security UI vulnerabilities. We fixed, closed, or removed visibility restrictions on 33 out of 42 bugs.

The Platform Security Team sandboxed the network service on macOS in Chrome 79, and continued the work on sandboxing it on other Desktop platforms. There is also some forward momentum for reducing its privilege in version R of Android.

You can now check the sandboxing state of processes on Windows by navigating to chrome://sandbox. Also on Windows, we experimented with enabling the renderer App Container but ran into crashes likely related to third party software, and are now working to improve error reporting to support future experimentation. Chrome 79 also saw Code Integrity Guard enabled on supported Windows versions, blocking unsigned code injection into the renderer process.

We have also begun investigating new systemic approaches to memory unsafety. Look for news in 2020, as well as continual improvements to the core libraries in Chromium and PDFium.

In Q4, the Bugs-- team moved closer to our goal of achieving 50% fuzzing coverage in Chrome (it's currently at 48%). We added new features to our ClusterFuzz platform, such as Honggfuzz support, libFuzzer support for Android, improved fuzzer weights and more accurate statistics gathering pipeline. We also enabled several new UBSan features across both Chrome and OSS-Fuzz. As part of OSS-Fuzz, we added Go language support and on-boarded several new Go projects. We also gave a talk about ClusterFuzz platform at Black Hat Europe. 

In conversation with our friends and colleagues at Mozilla over the course of Q4, the Open Web Platform Security team made substantial progress on Cross-Origin-Opener-Policy and Cross-Origin-Embedder-Policy. These isolation primitives will make it possible for us to ensure that process isolation is robust, even as we ship new and exciting APIs that give developers more capability. Implementations of both are mostly complete behind a flag, and we're looking forward to getting them out the door, and beginning the process of relying upon them to when deciding whether to allow cross-thread access to shared memory.

Similarly, we're polishing our implementation of Trusted Types based on feedback from origin trials and other vendors' review of the spec. We're still excited about its potential for injection mitigation, and we're looking forward to closing out the last few issues we know about in our implementation.

The Site Isolation team posted to the Google Security Blog and the Chromium Blog about our recent milestones for Site Isolation on Android and defending against compromised renderer processes. We also gave a talk at Black Hat Europe about Site Isolation and how to look for new bypasses for the VRP. At the same time, we made progress on additional enforcement, and we ran experiments to expand Android coverage to more devices. Finally, we also used Q4 to clean up a lot of core Site Isolation code, and we started updating Chrome's WebUI framework to better support new types of Chrome features without large risks of privilege escalation.

In the world of Web PKI Security, as part of our ongoing collaboration with Microsoft and Mozilla on the Common CA Database, "Audit Letter Validation" is now enabled for the full set of publicly trusted Certificate Authorities. This tool, developed by Microsoft and Mozilla, automatically validates the contents of audit letters to ensure they include the information required of a publicly trusted CA. Audit letter validation was previously done by hand, which was not scalable to CA's 2,500+ intermediate certificates.

Audit Letter Validation enabled us and other root stores to detect a wide variety of issues in the Web PKI that had previously gone unnoticed. We’ve spent the past quarter leading the incident response effort, working with non-compliant CAs to remediate issues and mitigate future risk. This helps not only Chrome users, but all users who trust these CAs. We can now automatically detect issues as they happen, ensuring prompt remediation.

We also collaborate with Mozilla to provide detailed reviews of organizations applying to be CAs, completing several in Q4. These public reviews take an extremely detailed look at how the CA is operated, looking at both compliance and for risky behaviour not explicitly forbidden, as well as opportunities for improvement based on emerging good practices.

Certificate Transparency (CT) continues to be an integral part of our work. Beyond helping protect users by allowing quick detection of potentially malicious certificates, the large-scale analysis that CT enables has been essential in helping improve the Web PKI. Analysis of CT logs this quarter revealed a number of systemic flaws in how Extended Validation certificates are validated, which has spurred industry-wide effort to address these issues. 

We took steps to protect users from trusting harmful certificates that might be installed by software or which they might be directed to install. Working with the Enamel team, we built on steps we’d previously taken to protect users from certificates used to intercept their communications by adding the ability to rapidly deploy targeted protections via our CRLSet mechanism. CRLSets allow us to quickly respond, using the Component Updater, without requiring a full Chrome release or respin.

More generally, we continue to work on the “patch gap”, where security bug fixes are posted in our open-source code repository but then take some time before they are released as a Chrome stable update. We now make regular refresh releases every two weeks, containing the latest severe security fixes. This has brought down the median “patch gap” from 33 days in Chrome 76 to 15 days in Chrome 78, and we continue to work on improving it.

Finally, you can read what the Chrome (and other Google) Vulnerability Rewards Programs have been up to in 2019 in our recent blog post.


Andrew, on behalf of the Chrome security team

(You can see our previous updates here: https://dev.chromium.org/Home/chromium-security/quarterly-updates)

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