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Proposed answer to MWBP WG (ACTION-566)

From: Thomas Roessler <tlr@w3.org>
Date: Wed, 28 Jan 2009 18:30:42 +0100
Message-Id: <DDC074C9-2DD0-465F-9BBB-4BAE4990D351@w3.org>
To: W3C WSC Internal <public-wsc-wg@w3.org>

Here we go... Comments by EOB next Tuesday?

> Hi,
>
> thanks for your request for advice with respect to the proposed best  
> practices on the use of HTTPS.  The Web Security Context Working  
> Group has considered the proposed best practice on a recent  
> conference call.
>
> The short version of the advice is "don't do this, it's a bad  
> practice."
>
> The longer version:  We believe that you mean to recommend token- 
> based authentication schemes (where only an initial login  
> transaction is done through HTTPS, but most interactions are through  
> plain HTTP, with an appropriate token transmitted as a cookie or in  
> some HTTP header) similar to the ones currently in use at large web  
> properties.  While there may be situations in which the use of such  
> schemes is justified as the result of a complex trade-off, we oppose  
> a best practice recommending this approach.  There are several  
> reasons for this advice:
>
> 1. Use of HTTP in such schemes often leaves the asset that should  
> really be protected out in the open:  E.g., a webmail service  
> implemented according to this advice might permit an attacker full  
> access to the victim's inbox.
>
> 2. When using TLS, there is no reason to repeat the initial public  
> key handshake for every single HTTP request:  The resource-intensive  
> piece of the protocol occurs when the TLS handshake is first  
> executed (e.g., when accessing the login page); future HTTP requests  
> only require cheap symmetric key operations.
>
> 3. The practice described is particularly bad in the case of  
> applications targeted at mobile use:  Mobile devices are  
> increasingly used to access the Web through whatever Wireless LAN  
> might be available.  There is no reason to trust these networks;  
> indeed, there is hardly a situation with a higher exposure to  
> network attacks than an untrusted Wireless LAN environment.   
> Therefore, the Best Practices document should call out the overall  
> risk profile, and *encourage* use of TLS.
>
> 4. We note that your specification seems to aim at relatively  
> complex Web Applications, which implies a high likelihood that  
> powerful mobile devices will be used with these applications.  That  
> implies both an even higher likelihood for the use of W-LAN, and a  
> comparably low likelihood that resource constraints will indeed be  
> seriously affected by the use of TLS.
>
> On behalf of the Web Security Context WG,
> --
> Thomas Roessler, W3C  <tlr@w3.org>
Received on Wednesday, 28 January 2009 17:30:53 UTC

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