W3C : about security activities (gossips, new work and strategy)

This post is the third one, reporting about W3C TPAC activities. Previous ones were related to advisory board discussion and general technical topic. That one focus on my fav topic, security.

People following me know I am a promoter of security in W3C. And having done that in the last 4 years, I must confess I had some good surprise during last W3C TPAC week (which is the yearly big W3C party). Here is what I collected, going into official and unofficial meeting, coffee breaks and bars…

When Vint Cerf, Jun Murai, and Tim Berners Lee advocate for security. W3C TPAC day started with a 3 stars raw on stage, exchanging with W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe. (Note for the youngest ones, Vint Cerf invented the internet and is working for Google, Jun Murai has been contributing on that eco-system, being one of the most powerful japanese representative in the internet, Tim Berners Lee, is Tim…). Reading the minutes of that conversation, one could realize that security was at the heart of the exchanges. About making security in everything, about security being transparent, about strong authentication, about making the web a trusted place… While those gentlemen did not draw the technical solutions on any white board, but rather exchanged on such needed effort, this gave an indication about their next challenge for the web.

W3C security strategy is here. In order to answer to W3C members request about having a security strategy, the security strategic plan for W3C has been issued. The Technology and Society domain considers two aspects for securing the open web platform : the user security (including web crypto API, web authentication and HTTPS migration), the web app security (including CSP, sandboxing and HTTPS, again). Another track is about making sure that the development of the open web platform takes care about the security, and this implies having security reviews, handling with care the migration to HTTPS, and liaising with the rest of the world thanks to liaison and wide communication. See more about that security strategic plan here :  https://github.com/w3c/websec/blob/master/security-roadmap.md

The migration towards an HTTPS world. A very interesting session was held during TPAC about trying to find the best path to make the web an HTTPS place. HTTPS is good says the W3C Technical Architecture Group. We all know that (well, kind of). But the path from HTTP to HTTPS may raise some serious challenges that Brad Hill explained very well in that document. The problem is about mixed content. How to make sure, once your website is mandating HTTPS, to still get content from website only running in HTTP ? What security measure should be taken when this situation happens ? Would not that be the weakest link that would kill the entire security promise… No conclusion was drawn from that discussion, but some solutions were excluding (for instance a 2 steps migration path that would be highly insecure for all the web).

W3C seeks for a security geek. Based on that ambitious plan, W3C has opened a position for strengthening the team, on security aspects. For more information, you should contact wendy from W3C (wseltzer at w3 dot org).

Web App Sec business as usual. Working hard and quietly, the Web App Sec is rolling out its plan. I have already mentioned the main topics being dealt in this Working Group, made of best security experts of major browser vendors. One may note that little by little, Web App Sec is providing developers with a tool box allowing to check integrity of a ressource (SRI), filter or log access to external ressources (CSP), access to specific API only in secure context (privileged Context) … Nevertheless, some recent activities are worth (re)mentioning, completing this intention :

  • COWL : is about Confinement with Origin Web Labels. In other words, this is a mean to lable some code and execute it carefully (because you dont trust it, because you want to allocate him less permission…). That work is in first public working draft (early stage of a spec) and is available here : http://www.w3.org/TR/cowl
  • Clear site data : is about allowing web app to kindly ask browsers to delete data related to itself. The spec is available here : http://www.w3.org/TR/clear-site-data/
  • Upgrade unsecured data : is about allowing web app dev to instruct browser to upgrade all interactions between client and server on HTTPS. the spec is available here : http://www.w3.org/TR/upgrade-insecure-requests/

You can have a look at the complete status of the Working Group deliverables edited by its co-chair Brad Hill.

Last but not Least. Some new work is being introduced in W3C.

Web Authentication. Is about allowing strong authentication from a web app. That working group will certainly be the place holder for W3C receiving FIDO Alliance specifications which are defining an API for authentication, attestation of a authentication device and signature. The draft charter is under construction here https://w3c.github.io/websec/web-authentication-charter

Hardware Security. Is about allowing web app to access secure services made available thanks to hardware based token (like secure chips, smart card, trusted execution environement). the ones knowing my everydays job will definitely recognize the usual technology I am playing with, and may understand the reason why I have offered to chair that working group, together with David Rogers, a mobile security expert. The draft charter is available here : https://w3c.github.io/websec/hasec-charter.html

Those two new pieces in W3C still have to go through the W3C member review before being actually up and running. Again, here, I will keep you informed.

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