Web sites are stealing browser histories

Certain Web sites probe visiting browsers for data that can be used to help criminals craft phishing attacks that compromise the accounts of online banking customers, researchers have found.

Java scripts on these sites invade the browsers' history cache and finds out what sites the browser has visited. If, for example, the history reveals that the browser routinely visits a particular online banking site, attackers would know what phony banking page to serve up in order to steal login information, according to scientists at the University of California, San Diego.

Also read: 2010's biggest security SNAFUs

The latest versions of Firefox, Chrome and Safari block this history sniffing, but earlier versions and all versions of Internet Explorer don't, they say.

History sniffing has been known for years as a possible way to discover what sites a browser has visited, but this is the first time that anyone has shown it actually happening on the open Internet.

The practice isn't widespread, the researchers conclude. They tested the home pages of the top 50,000 global Web sites as ranked by Alexa, a Web statistics company. They found just 46 cases of real history sniffing, one of them being carried out by the site youporn.com, which ranks in the Alexa top 100.

Other sites carrying on history sniffing include charter.net, espnf1.com,  feedjit.com and gamestorrents.com.

"We want to let the broad public know that history sniffing is possible, it actually happens out there, and that there are a lot of people vulnerable to this attack," says UC San Diego computer science professor Sorin Lerner in a written statement.

In addition to targeting potential phishing victims, history sniffing can be used by businesses to find out what competitors a site visitor has already checked out and by advertising firms trying to create user profiles so they can target them with ads of interest, the researchers say.

In some instances, the researchers found that Web site owners added the history sniffing code and in others the code was part of ads that were elements of the site pages. These external sources of sniffing code came from interclick.com, meaning tool.com and feedjit.com, all of which compile data on Web users' behavior for their customers.

Researchers also found that sniffing code on a Web page slows the load time for the page by 67 per cent.

The tool the researchers developed to spot sites that sniff histories could have other uses, the researchers says. For example, it could be used to discover what data leaks unintentionally from Web sites that employ JavaScript, they say.

A paper on the research was presented to the 2010 ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security earlier this year.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securitycybercrimelegalsoftwareUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoJava scripts

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Network World staff

Network World
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?