Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Risk

6/1/2009
12:17 PM
50%
50%

The .NET Browser Add-On Security Uproar

Some Firefox users are screaming bloody murder over a Windows update that quietly adds an unwanted browser extension to their systems. Maybe it's time to step back and take a deep breath.

Some Firefox users are screaming bloody murder over a Windows update that quietly adds an unwanted browser extension to their systems. Maybe it's time to step back and take a deep breath.Last February, Microsoft issued a service pack for its .NET Framework 3.5. Among many other things, the service pack installs a Firefox browser extension, dubbed Microsoft .NET Framework Assistant, that enables one-click installation of downloaded .NET applications.

The Firefox extension, which installs automatically, went largely unnoticed at the time. So did the fact that the extension's "uninstall" button in Firefox -- a feature users expect to get with every such add-on -- does not work.

Disabling the .NET Framework Assistant is a simple matter; the "disable" button still works just fine, and Firefox will not load disabled extensions. Users who want to remove the extension completely, however, must edit the Windows Registry manually.

Now The Trouble Starts?

Last week, the code finally hit the fan over the Microsoft update.

On Friday, Washington Post technology columnist Brian Krebs belatedly took Microsoft to the woodshed for releasing its no-knock Firefox extension. Other sites, including The Register, Geek.com and Slashdot (picking up a Startupearth.com article) also jumped on the dogpile.

This has got to be one of the strangest cases of a delayed-reaction freakout I have ever seen online. All of the current crop of articles dealing with this issue refer to an item first published on Annoyances.org -- last February 27.

I'm not excusing Microsoft's actions. The company's decision to install its Firefox extension without permission and without an "uninstall" button shows extremely poor judgment.

One Microsoft employee justified this approach by noting that the company simply wanted to ensure that .NET "ClickOnce" functionality worked for every Firefox user (and thus every FF profile) on a Windows system, rather than working only for the user who actually installed the extension. It's a classic example of developers making technology choices that ignore the context within which users will view those choices.

And as Krebs pointed out, it's an approach that could lead users to question the wisdom of installing other software via Windows Update. That breach of faith could, in turn, expose users to far more serious security risks.

Finally, how many companies want to install a Firefox extension on an employee's desktop that allows them to install anything with "one click" simplicity? Large companies that scrutinize all of their updates carefully before rolling them out might catch this feature and decide whether or not to allow it. Smaller companies that rely upon Windows Update to install updates automatically don't have that luxury.

Mistake? Yes. Disaster? Not Even Close.

So Microsoft made a mistake. It's not the first, and it certainly isn't the worst. So let's call off the attack dogs and focus on what this particular incident really means, here and now.

-- The .NET Framework Assistant never installs a .NET app automatically. While "one click" software install support may not be an ideal software-security paradigm, it's not a life-or-death threat, either.

-- Claims that the .NET Framework Assistant conceals "spyware" or "malware" are silly and pointless.

-- Keep in mind that .NET apps are sandboxed using a security model not unlike the one that Java uses. While any new software creates risks that may affect both security and system reliability, it's important not to blow those risks completely out of proportion.

-- Last month, Microsoft issued an update to .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 that re-enables the "uninstall" button when a Firefox user views the extensions list. It is my understanding, however, that SP1 still installs the .NET Framework Assistant.

-- Even without the update, Windows users can still shut down the .NET Framework Assistant by viewing their list of Firefox extensions (click "Tools" and then "Add-Ons"), selecting the Microsoft extension, and clicking "disable."

-- Many Windows users (including yours truly) choose not to run the .NET Framework at all. Some companies do run at least a few key .NET applications, although many others do not. If your company does install any version of .NET, however, then it's a bad idea to skip service pack updates that often contain important security patches. Doing so could expose your systems to much bigger problems than just an unwanted Firefox browser extension.

It's easy to get wrapped up in the excitement when a bunch of Web sites jump on a hot news item like this. Just keep in mind that it may be more dangerous to over-react in such situations than it is not to react at all.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
How Attackers Could Use Azure Apps to Sneak into Microsoft 365
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  3/24/2020
Malicious USB Drive Hides Behind Gift Card Lure
Dark Reading Staff 3/27/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
Data breaches and regulations have forced organizations to pay closer attention to the security incident response function. However, security leaders may be overestimating their ability to detect and respond to security incidents. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-10940
PUBLISHED: 2020-03-27
Local Privilege Escalation can occur in PHOENIX CONTACT PORTICO SERVER through 3.0.7 when installed to run as a service.
CVE-2020-10939
PUBLISHED: 2020-03-27
Insecure, default path permissions in PHOENIX CONTACT PC WORX SRT through 1.14 allow for local privilege escalation.
CVE-2020-6095
PUBLISHED: 2020-03-27
An exploitable denial of service vulnerability exists in the GstRTSPAuth functionality of GStreamer/gst-rtsp-server 1.14.5. A specially crafted RTSP setup request can cause a null pointer deference resulting in denial-of-service. An attacker can send a malicious packet to trigger this vulnerability.
CVE-2020-10817
PUBLISHED: 2020-03-27
The custom-searchable-data-entry-system (aka Custom Searchable Data Entry System) plugin through 1.7.1 for WordPress allows SQL Injection. NOTE: this product is discontinued.
CVE-2020-10952
PUBLISHED: 2020-03-27
GitLab EE/CE 8.11 through 12.9.1 allows blocked users to pull/push docker images.