Jun 08

Security Screencast(s)

As Alix mentions, I recently put together a quick screencast of some of the new security features in Firefox 3. Of course, beltzner promptly scooped me with his own inimitable screencast, and what with the launch, it’s only now that I’m getting around to posting mine.

What’s interesting to me, though, is the difference between what I originally recorded, and what Alix published. I recorded the raw screencast using Jing, which is a simple, free screencasting tool for Mac and Windows. It caps you at 5 minutes, and records as flash, but it’s super easy to use, and screencast.com will host the resultant video for you. You can see what I recorded here:

But then I handed it off to Alix and David and Rainer, and they turned my 5 minutes of low production values into 2 minutes of edited, titled video, with helpful visuals! See if you notice the difference…

Firefox 3: Security from Mozilla Firefox on Vimeo.

As promised in my last post, I’ll soon be posting yet another video, this time an hour long talk I gave at FIRST. And then, I think, no more blatant self-promotion for a couple weeks, eh?

Have you installed Firefox 3 yet?

Jun 08

Hello Vancouver! Briefly!

A quick note, to any Vancouverites that may be interested, that I will be in town on Wednesday to speak at the FIRST 2008 conference. The title of the talk is “The Most Important Thing – How Mozilla Does Security, and What You Can Steal.” If you’re attending the conference, I hope I’ll see you there. Once the conference is over, I’ll post my slides and a video of a presentation dry-run, in case anyone is interested.

I had a lot of help from several people, most notably Shaver, in putting this presentation together; my goal is to keep adapting it and ideally get other people giving it as well. Security is something that the Mozilla project has a lot of experience with, and a lot to be proud of. It is important to our mission that we share that expertise. Even when what we’re saying isn’t new (“have unit tests”), the fact that we have achieved the success we have lets us be a proof point for people trying to make change in their own projects (“Mozilla didn’t think code review was too time-intensive.”)

I may not be an official member of the evangelism team, but I will do whatever I can to encourage more people in our community to take their knowledge outbound. We are doing crazy awesome stuff here (how many IT people, on the planet, have dealt with what Justin‘s team has?) and we should consider it an obligation to spread that knowledge around. Heck, that’s actually sort of what my talk is about.

Jun 08

Firing Up Browser Security

Low Flying Dogs on FlickrWindow and I recently did a joint interview for Federico Biancuzzi at SecurityFocus about many of the security changes we’ve made in Firefox 3. It covers both front-end and back-end information, and mentions several changes that I haven’t had a chance to mention here in the past.

If you’re interested, check it out.

[PS – Full props to r80o on flickr – this is a pretty excellent photo for “caution”, and CC too!]

May 08

Mal-what? Firefox 3 vs. Bad People

A lot of the things I write here are for geeks.  That’s unsurprising, given my own wonkish leanings, but I appreciate that it makes me a tough guy to love, much less read, at times.  Sorry about that, and thanks for sticking with me.

With Firefox 3 on the cusp of the precipice of the knife’s edge of release, though, I wanted to stop pretending that everyone reads the same articles I do and talk about one of the many, really concrete things we’re doing to keep our users, like you, safe.  There will be graphs.

Continue reading →

May 08

About Larry

Blue LarryI’ve been meaning to write a post like this for a while, and maybe I still will, but in the meantime Deb has done a great job of introducing the world to Larry.  Her writing is enviably clearer than my own, so you should go check it out right now.

I bet she’d love it if you gave her some digg love, too.

[Killing comments on this one to reduce forking/repetition – take ’em to digg or debb]

Apr 08

Security UI in Firefox 3plus1

We’ve made a lot of changes (and more importantly, a lot of positive progress) in security UI for Firefox 3.

We have built-in malware protection now, and better phishing protection.  We have a password manager that intelligently lets you see whether your login was successful before saving, instead of interrupting the page load.  We have gotten rid of several security dialogs that taught users to click OK automatically, unseeingly.  We have OCSP on by default.  We have a consistent place in the UI now where users can get information about the site they are visiting, including detailed secondary information about their history with the site; all of which are first steps in a long road towards equipping users with more sophisticated tools for browsing online, by taking advantage of habits they already have, and things we already know.  All the people who worked on this stuff know who they are, and I want to thank them, because it sure as hell wasn’t all me.

With Firefox 3 in full down-hunker for final release (and with conference silly season upon us) though, I’ve started to get serious about thinking through what comes next.

Here’s my initial list of the 3 things I care most about, what have I missed?

1. Key Continuity Management

Key continuity management is the name for an approach to SSL certificates that focuses more on “is this the same site I saw last time?” instead of “is this site presenting a cert from a trusted third party?”  Those approaches don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and shouldn’t in our case, but supporting some version of this would let us deal more intelligently with crypto environments that don’t use CA-issued certificates.

The exception mechanism in Firefox 3 is a very weak version of KCM, in that security exceptions, once manually added, do have “KCM-ish” properties (future visits are undisturbed, changes are detected).  But without the whole process being transparent to users, we miss the biggest advantage to this approach.

Why I care: KCM lets us eliminate the most-benign and most-frequently-occurring SSL error in Firefox 3.  Self-signed certs aren’t intrinsically dangerous, even if they do lack any identification information whatsoever.  The problem is that case-by-case, we don’t have a way to know if a given self-signed cert represents an attack in progress.  The probability of that event is low, but the risk is high, so we get in the way.  That’s not optimal, though.  When the risk is negligible, we should get out of the way, and save our warnings for the times when they can be most effective.

2. Secure Remote Passwords

Secure Remote Password protocol is a mechanism (have some math!) for allowing a username/password-style exchange to happen, without an actual password going out along the wire. Rob Sayre already has a patch.  That patch makes the technology available, but putting together a UI for it that resists spoofing (and is attractive enough that sites want to participate) will be interesting.

Why I care: SRP is not the solution to phishing, but it does make it harder to make use of stolen credentials, and that’s already a big deal.  It also has the happy side effect of authenticating the site to you while it’s authenticating you to the site.  I wouldn’t want this useful technology to get stuck in the chicken-egg quagmire of “you implement it first.”

3. Private Browsing Mode

This is the idea of a mode for Firefox which would protect their privacy more aggressively, and erase any trace of having been in that mode after the fact.  Ehsan Akhgari has done a bunch of work here, and in fact has a working patch.  While his version hooks into all the various places we might store personal data, I’ve also wondered about a mode where we just spawn a new profile on the spot (possibly with saved passwords intact) and then delete it once finished.

Why I care: Aside from awkward teenagers (and wandering fiancés), there are a lot of places in the world where the sites you choose to visit can be used as a weapon against you.  Private browsing mode is not some panacea for governmental oppression, but as the user’s agent, I think it is legitimately within our scope (and morally within our responsibility) to put users in control of their information.  We began this thinking with the “Clear Private Data” entry in the tools menu, but I think we can do better.

(And also…)

Outside of these 3, there are a couple things that I know will get some of my attention, but involve more work to understand before I can talk intelligently about how to solve them.

The first is for me to get a better understanding of user certificates. In North America (outside of the military, at least) client certificates are not a regular matter of course for most users, but in other parts of the world, they are becoming downright commonplace.  As I understand it, Belgium and Denmark already issue certs to their citizenry for government interaction, and I think Britain is considering its options as well.  We’ve fixed some bugs in that UI in Firefox 3, but I think it’s still a second-class UI in terms of the attention it has gotten, and making it awesome would probably help a lot of users in the countries that use them.  If you have experience and feedback here, I would welcome it.

The second is banging on the drum about our mixed content detection.  We have some very old bugs in the area, and mixed content has the ability to break all of our assumptions about secure connections.  I think it’s just a matter of getting the right people interested in the problem, so it may be that the best way for me to solve this is with bottles of single malt.  Whatever it takes.  If you can help here, name your price.

Obviously I’ve left out all the tactical fixup work on the UI we already have.  We all know that those things will need to happen, to be re-evaluated and evolved.  I wanted to get these bigger-topic thoughts out early, so that people like you can start thinking about whether they are interesting and relevant to the things you care about, and shouting angrily if they aren’t.

Apr 08

New Digs! (Correction)

After publication, I was made aware of some errors in my original post. I have included a corrected version below.

As of today, the Mozilla Toronto office has moved from our building at 20 Richmond to this little out-of-the-way place:

720 Spadina

The CN Tower! 720 Spadina Avenue!

We didn’t want to talk about it until everything was fully settled, but we are now residents of an architectural icon building with a pretty ridiculously excellent view door. Full props to beltzner for scouting out office space, and to ben for orchestrating the move; it’s been a crazy pretty smooth couple of weeks!

Some information about the new office, since it’s a little more noteworthy different than the old one. 🙂

Suite 12811

Q: What is the actual new address?

A: We’re now accepting mail at

301 Front Street, Suite 12811
Toronto, ON
M5V 2T6

720 Spadina Avenue, Suite 218
Toronto, ON
M5S 2T9

Q: Did that say 12811 218?

A: Yep. We’re a loooong way up.

Q: How do I get there?

A: There’s a stairwell. 🙂

Seriously, this can be a bit of a trick the first time is quite straightforward. If you come in through the usual entrance, you’ll be sort of pipelined into the “tourist” sections elevators of the tower. Those elevators won’t will go where you want them to, and the visit will end up costing you significantly more nothing.

Q. Do we get discounts for the tourist areas?

A. We do! As tenants we get basically a pad of discount coupons. Visit us first, and we’ll tear you off a few. No.

Q. What about the view?

A. Oh there’s a view. Of a brick wall. Unfortunately, we only have some cameraphone pictures from our move-in day right now, but we’ll get better ones up soon. In the meantime, here’s a taste.

Gavin checking out a conference room (and missing the view wall):

Closer view through some of the NorthSouth-facing windows (you’ll notice not care that these windows don’t open):

Ahh, April 1.  We really did move, and the new, second floor office in a normal office building really is a big improvement.  The rest though, is a big fat lie (and full credit to madhava for the photo work).  “720 Spadina”, “CN Tower” — the keys are right next to each other.

We regret the error.

Mar 08

Should Malware Warnings have a Clickthrough?

In the latest nightly builds of FF3, and in the upcoming Beta 5, we let users choose to ignore our phishing warning, and click through to the site, just like they could in Firefox 2:

Ignore this Warning

But that same spot is empty in the malware case (unless you install my magic extension.)  Should it be?  It’s a harder question than it seems, on first blush.

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