W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-webappsec@w3.org > August 2015

Re: HSTS, mixed content, and priming

From: Richard Barnes <rbarnes@mozilla.com>
Date: Mon, 24 Aug 2015 15:52:50 -0400
Message-ID: <CAOAcki_Ou-gv9aS-faFt6oXVhm78LZSVbK3wQmkn+ZHS-tVJ9A@mail.gmail.com>
To: WebAppSec WG <public-webappsec@w3.org>
On Mon, Aug 24, 2015 at 11:02 AM, Richard Barnes <rbarnes@mozilla.com>
wrote:

> Hey all,
>
> This is a circle we've been around a few times, but I wanted to see if we
> might be able to break out of it this time, using a new-ish idea.  The goal
> of this message is to lay out the idea and an initial discussion of the
> trade-offs, to see if this is an idea worth pursuing.
>
> tl;dr: If we add priming requests for HSTS, we can allow HSTS-upgraded
> reqeusts from HTTPS pages, and avoid the need for scheme changes.
>
>
> # Background
>
> In order to maximize the amount of the web that is protected with HTTPS,
> we want to fetch resources using HTTPS even if the URL uses the "http:"
> scheme -- but only when the "http:" and "https:" versions of the URL are
> equivalent.
>
> Currently, we have two ways of determining that HTTP and HTTPS resources
> are equivalent:
>
>   1. HSTS - equivalence asserted by the resource owner
>   2. upgrade-insecure-requests - equivalence asserted by linking site
>
> Now we have a funny asymmetry, though: Requests that are upgrade through
> u-i-r are not mixed content, but those upgraded through HSTS are.  This
> seems silly, given that they both result in content being loaded over
> HTTPS.  In fact, HSTS is a better signal than u-i-r of when the upgrade
> should be done.  How does the linking site know that the HTTP and HTTPS
> URLs reference the same resource?
>
> It seems like if we could get to the point where we could give
> HSTS-upgraded resource loads the same mixed-content treatment as other
> scheme-upgraded loads, it could reduce the friction of moving to HTTPS.
>
>
> # HSTS Priming
>
> The proposal here has two major parts:
>
> 1. Discover HSTS support with "priming requests":
>   * When the browser encounters http://example.com/foo/bar.js on an HTTPS
> page...
>   * And the example.com is not an HSTS host...
>   * Send a HEAD request https://example.com/ with no cookies, etc.
>   * See if the query returns HSTS headers
>   * If so, the browser loads https://example.com/foo/bar.js
>   * ... and don't consider it mixed content
> 2. Do not treat HSTS-upgraded requests as mixed content
>
> This is basically a CORS preflight, but looking for HSTS instead of ACAO.
> In either case, you're taking a request that would not be allowed by the
> default policy and checking to see whether it can be done in a way that is
> allowed.  (Yes, you would have to do both before an upgraded CORS request.)
>
> In past discussions of allowing HSTS-upgraded loads, there have been two
> main objections:
>
>   * Indeterminacy: Whether the upgrade happens depends on whether the
> browser has encountered the HSTS header in earlier browsing.
>   * Silently upgrading requests hides potential breakage
>
> I think that adding priming addresses both of these concerns.  Priming
> obviously removes indeterminacy, since if the browser doesn't know the HSTS
> state of a site, it goes and checks.  As far as hiding breakage, well,
> there's no breakage to hide for browsers that implement priming, and as
> always, if you want to support older browsers, you need to test with them.
>
>
> # Some Issues
>
> ## What value does priming add?
>
> As mentioned above, the primary value is to remove the indeterminacy
> around HSTS upgrades, so that it's safe to treat HSTS ugprades as not mixed
> content.
>
> Allowing HSTS loads also addresses some of the inherent deficiencies of
> upgrade-insecure-requests:
>
> * As noted above, it's difficult for the linking site to actually
> determine whether the HTTP and HTTPS URLs actually reference the same
> content (except by looking at the linked site's HSTS headers).  So there's
> a risk of breakage if the linking site turns on u-i-r and the resource
> owner does not maintain the equivalence.
>
> * Priming provides a softer upgrade path than u-i-r.  Mixed content that
> would not be blocked can still load, and will smoothly upgrade to HTTPS as
> the resource server is able.
>
> So relative to u-i-r, this reduces uncertainty for site operators, and
> gets more HTTPS faster (since it's a partial ugprade).  It seems like these
> two are complementary in much the same way that HTTPS and HSTS are -- you
> can turn on HTTPS for some parts of your site, then turn on HSTS to lock it
> in.  Relying on priming to upgrade what can be upgraded of your site on day
> 0, then once you're sure that all your sub-resources can upgrade properly,
> turn on u-i-r.
>
>
> ## Is this something developers will understand?
>
> Developers have gotten used to these sorts of dynamic changes to resource
> loads before.  CORS obviously comes to mind, as does IPv4 / IPv6 selection.
>
>
> ## Is HSTS priming an expensive hack to paper over a temporary problem?
>
> In terms of "expense": It's worth noting that HSTS priming would only be
> done for potentially mixed-content requests, in cases where the HSTS state
> of the remote host is unknown.  Current Firefox telemetry indicates that
> around 2/25% of page loads have mixed content,
>

To be clear: This is supposed to be "2.25%".

--Richard


> which places an upper bound on the number of additional queries.  If you
> load 10 pages, each of which has 100 links to the same insecure host, you
> still only get one priming query.
>
> In terms of "hack": Any solution for upgrading things opportunistically is
> going to look messy, since you need a way to probe for when you can
> opportunistically upgrade.  This version seems minimally messy, since (1)
> it only probes when needed, and (2) the probe relies on existing technology
> (HSTS) for indicating when the upgrade is possible.
>
> In terms of "temporary": The cost scales as the need.  As more of the web
> is labeled with "https:" URIs, and as there's preloaded HSTS, there will be
> no more need for priming queries, and they will not be sent.  So the "http:
> and unknown HSTS" problem might be temporary, but we can see in telemetry
> when it starts to disappear, and remove the feature when it's not needed.
> I expect the "http: links" problem to stay around longer, possibly
> indefinitely, but that doesn't require priming, just allowing HSTS upgrades.
>
>
> ## Is there privacy risk from the priming request?
>
> The priming request must be HTTPS -- it's looking for HSTS, and HSTS can
> only be sent over HTTPS.  So to the network, it only leaks the hostname
> that the browser is considering connecting to.  To the website, we can
> strip context (cookies, referer, etc.), so all the website learns is that a
> given browser/IP is attempting an upgrade.
>
Received on Monday, 24 August 2015 19:53:18 UTC

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