Browser holes worse than thought

A little-known feature in Windows could lead to big security problems for web surfers.

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A little-known feature in Windows could lead to big security problems for web surfers.

Security researchers Billy Rios and Nathan McFeters say they've discovered a new way that the URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) protocol handler technology, used by Windows to launch programs through the browser, can be misused to steal data from a victim's computer.

URI bugs have become a hot topic over the past month, ever since researcher Thor Larholm showed how a browser could be tricked into sending malformed data to Firefox using this technology. This bug allowed an attacker to run malware on a victim's PC.

Later, other researchers, including Rios and McFetters, showed how other browsers and applications could be misused to achieve similar goals.

In the past days, however, Rios and McFetters have shifted their focus away from malformed data and have taken a close look at how attackers could simply misuse the legitimate features of software that is launched via the URI protocol handler, something they call "functionality based exploitation."

Their initial results show that there could be plenty of ways to misuse this technology.

Though they will not name the company responsible for the software, the researchers said they have found a major flaw in a widely used program that could be misused to steal data from a victim's computer.

"It is possible through the URI to actually steal content form the user's machine and upload that content to a remote server of the attacker's choice," said McFetters, a senior security advisor for Ernst & Young. "This is all through functionality that the application provides."

Rios and McFetters plan to release the results of their research after the vendor has had a chance to fix the problem, but this may be the beginning of a new round of problems with a technology that is just starting to be scrutinised by security professionals.

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