Ex-Ray: Detection of History-Leaking Browser Extensions

  • Michael Weissbacher, Enrico Mariconti, Guillermo Suarez de Tangil, Gianluca Stringhini, William Robertson, Engin Kirda
  • Proceedings of the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC)
  • PDF

Web browsers have become the predominant means for developing and deploying applications, and thus they often handle sensitive data such as social interactions or financial credentials and information. As a consequence, defensive measures such as TLS, the Same-Origin Policy (SOP), and Content Security Policy (CSP) are critical for ensuring that sensitive data remains in trusted hands.

Browser extensions, while a useful mechanism for allowing third-party extensions of core browser functionality, pose a security risk in this regard since they have access to privileged browser APIs that are not necessarily restricted by the SOP or CSP. Because of this, they have become a major vector for introducing malicious code into the browser. Prior work has led to improved security models for isolating and sandboxing extensions, as well as techniques for identifying potentially malicious extensions. The area of privacy violating browser extensions has so far been covered by manual analysis and systems performing search on specific text search on network traffic. However, comprehensive content-agnostic systems for identifying tracking behavior at the network level are an area that has not yet received significant attention.

In this paper, we present a dynamic technique for identifying privacy-violating extensions in Web browsers that relies solely on observations of the network traffic patterns generated by browser extensions. We then present ExRay a prototype implementation of this technique for the Chrome Web browser, and use it to evaluate all extensions from the Chrome store with more than 1,000 installations (10,691 in total). Our evaluation finds new types of tracking behavior not covered by state of the art systems. Finally, we discuss potential browser improvements to prevent abuse by future user-tracking extensions.