XSS Prevention in GMail

28 February, 2011 § Leave a comment

Many popular web applications use JSON as their data interchange format. The format is very compact, easy for humans to read, and is based on a subset of JavaScript.

I’ll start by showing an example. Consider a website that wants its clients to query the server for the most recent 3 public messages. The client may send a GET query to the following address: https://mail.google.com/recent_messages/

The response can be written as follows:

var messages = [
   {"user": "foo", "m": "I like turtles", "t": 123423550},
   {"user": "bar", "m": "Turtle power!", "t": 1234543245},
   {"user": "baz", "m": "Cowabunga dude", "t": 1234567643}
];

When mail.google.com requests this JSON feed, it could then run eval() on the source code. Afterwards, it will have a messages object in global scope that it can reference.

This could work out good for GMail, but it can also allow other websites to make the same call. Modern web browsers will not allow asynchronous HTTP requests to cross domain boundaries, so it is easy to think that this is safe. However if the location is added as the src attribute of a script tag, then the browsers will load the content.

To work around this, GMail adds while(1); to the beginning of the JSON response.

When requesting JavaScript through a script tag’s src attribute, the DOM does not give access to modifying the content of the response. This keeps the while(1); present. If a client tries to eval() this JSON request, their browser will simply hang.

Pretty interesting, huh? There still are workarounds that can defeat this, such as setting up a server-side proxy that will make the request and strip the while(1).

If you’re looking for more details, Adobe Labs has a page on their website that covers Preventing the Execution of Unauthorized Script in JSON.

Tagged: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading XSS Prevention in GMail at JAWS.

meta

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,004 other followers