The following is not original, but simply a summary of widely known information.
It has been known for decades that plaintext protocols, such as HyperText Transfer Protocol (http) are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. Yet we are now at the point where there is simply too many ways to man-in-the-middle the web browser, and too much lovely mayhem that can be constructed, for this to be tolerable. We MUST demand that web-sites shift to HTTPS for everything, and ship web browsers that disable http altogether.
How to Man in the Middle: There are simply far too many ways to act as a man in the middle to a web browser. These include maskerading as any access point requested by a system (Karma), ARP cache poisioning (arpiframe), DNS cache poisoning, WiFi packet injection ( airpwn), or simply an ISP attempting to monetize the network (advertisement injection,Phorm). If an adversary can eavesdrop on our HTTP sessions, they can act as a man-in-the-middle.
The problem arises from all the malicious fun that can be done by a man-in-the-middle. This can include:
- Cookie Pillaging: By having the web browser transparently redirect through a long list of sites, the browser will transmit EVERY non-secure (not-SSL-only) cookie to the eavesdropper. Which means the eavesdropper can read! your! gmail!! and other such lovely mayhem, as many sites which allow SSL access don't actually set the cookies properly to mandate SSL access, which means from the viewpoint of an active attacker, SSL does no good at protecting the site!
- SMB Reflection: IE will happily open an SMB share when given the proper URL, which can be the attacker's share on the local network. The attacker can use this for the SMB reflection attack (at least on older systems), allowing the attacker on many systems to read and write the user's directory if file sharing is enabled, or to relay authorization credentials to a third party file server. Its unclear how well this can still work, but its at least worth trying.
- Worms: Take the IE 0-day exploit-du-jour and make a worm that uses packet injection/AP spoofing to spread to all other systems on the local wireless network. For extra credit, release such a worm at JFK airport and include a phone-home visit to the CDC website giving the CDC a nice model for how an influenza-of-doom would spread. (Heathrow may be slightly better, but it is far cheaper to have your worm fly to heathrow in your place. Also, the spread rates in the Usenix paper are probably conservative, because they don't model effects like an infected notebook carrier doing work in a taxi)
- Drive traffic to your blog:. Gotta have a proof of concept to get people's attention! Note that it only took a couple of hours to hook up a fragile but nontheless working demo. The attack would have been much more effective if I actually played games with wireless transmission power.
So what is to be done? Simple. NO MORE HTTP! Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING should be through HTTPS/SSL. The security community managed to kill off Telnet. We need to do the same to HTTP (oh, and non-secure DNS, too.)