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Apple, Microsoft, Google Attacked For Evil Plugins 293

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the also-wear-more-hats dept.
nk497 writes "A Mozilla exec has attacked Apple, Microsoft and Google for installing plugins without users' permission. 'Why do Microsoft, Google, Apple, and others think that it is an OK practice to add plug-ins to Firefox when I'm installing their software packages?' Asa Dotzler asks. 'That is precisely how a Trojan horse operates... These additional pieces of software installed without my consent may not be malicious but the means by which they were installed was sneaky, underhanded, and wrong.' He called on them to 'stop being evil.'"
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Apple, Microsoft, Google Attacked For Evil Plugins

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  • Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by metrix007 (200091) on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:12AM (#34375078)

    Yes...I should not have to check addons to firefox to make sure nothing dodgy has been installed. Of course, this behaviour will continue as long as it is technically possible, so why doesn't Mozilla simply make it impossible? Only allow installing addons through firefox, with explicit prompts.

  • by GodWasAnAlien (206300) on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:16AM (#34375134)

    Warning: A third party plugin, PluginNameHere, has been installed without user consent:

    DELETE KEEP

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:16AM (#34375144) Homepage
    Not that difficult to code in a startup screen "X addons installed since last restart. Should I remove?"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:16AM (#34375148)

    ...why is your software so crappy that it allows anyone to install plugins without notifying the user?

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:19AM (#34375184) Journal

    The Mint Linux distro installs a default custom search that not only removes a lot of functionality from google but also takes up half the page size on a 12.1 inch netbook with a plain ugly design, just to make some cash. Fixing it is possible but come on! I donate cash already to various projects, but Mint can kiss my hairy ass. I need that left column in Google search because else it gives me results from the beginning of the ice age on any query related to current events.

    But companies just can't accept that we don't want their crap. Especially American companies. Please ATI, I know about WoW, if I wanted to play it, I would have played it by now. So stop trying to slip the trial on my gaming machine. No thanks MSI, I do NOT want a dumb virus checker with my windows, I do not even want windows. And if I want games I get the one with my ATI card not some god awful free game with god knows what installed along with it.

    I would love to serve one of the execs.

    Bill Gates: "One milk shake please"

    Me: *FAP FAP FAP*. *HATCHOO*. *SPIT*.

    Me: "Sure, and enjoy the free extra I added in regoniztion of the quality software you shovelled on me."

    Anyone knows if the McD at Redmond is hiring?

  • by baka_toroi (1194359) on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:21AM (#34375198) Journal
    "Son, what should I do?" I will remember you forever when my mom calls me about that dialog box. Thank yo, GodWasAnAlien (BTW, don't you mean "Christ"?)
  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Krneki (1192201) on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:28AM (#34375302)
    Exactly, lock the plug-ins with a password. This is something I'm waiting since a long time ago.

    It's my browser and I don't like changes being made without my explicit confirmation.
  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:37AM (#34375404)
    when you have 300 jillion people using your product, you can afford not to care.  No it's not fair, but that's capitalism.
  • And (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ISoldat53 (977164) on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:37AM (#34375414)
    Make it easier to remove them.
  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mellon (7048) on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:42AM (#34375452) Homepage

    You are right in principle, but not in practice. The problem is that the security model for software package installations allows for privilege escalation in an unconstrained (not chrooted) environment. This means that the installer can do whatever it wants to Mozilla, and there's nothing Mozilla can do to stop it.

    The solution to this problem is to use a different installation model and a different security model. Two examples are Bitfrost [laptop.org] and iOS [wikipedia.org]. Both use a security model where apps are constrained as to what they can access, and how they can access it. Installers aren't allowed to scribble all over the filesystem. Consequently, app installers would not be *able* to modify the Mozilla install, so this simply wouldn't be an issue.

    So basically what's going on here is that these companies are taking advantage of a broken security model while they can. Hopefully as technology marches forward, this broken security model will become obsolete, although I see no evidence that Microsoft or Apple are working on it.

  • Re:Yes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mysidia (191772) on Monday November 29, 2010 @11:53AM (#34375588)

    so why doesn't Mozilla simply make it impossible?

    Because they shouldn't have to? Due to understood ownership of the application's own files by that application and the system admin?

    Apple, Google, Microsoft should list their plugins in the Addons directory, just like everyone else has to. If they think users will strongly benefit from a plugin and want to make things easy, they should at least prompt first, before messing with a different application's files.

    Because the functionality Microsoft/Google/Apple are abusing is important useful functionality for system administrators to deploy plugins system-wide or network-wide. Or install a plugin once globally, without each user needing to maintain and update their own copy of every popular plugin that is needed.

    Just because Microsoft has no business using this functionality as an underhanded way to try to hoc their own plugins does not mean the easy deployment of browser with plugins pre-loaded should not be allowed.

  • I would alter "do not mind" to "have no clue and don't understand the potential implications of." The end result will be a highly controlled everything, because people are neither taught nor encouraged to think about things that don't relate to their immediate button-pushing responsibilities, coupled with a fair amount of casual despair about having any control over their own lives.

    Most enduser types I've talked to about such things tend to give me lines like "Ah, none of this stuff affects me," "Whaddyagonna do, they'll do what they want anyway" and "Pfff, they wouldn't do anything really bad."

  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:04PM (#34375762)

    This approach is doomed.

    The browser has to somewhere remember that a user approved an extension. It does this by writing state to disk. A malicious extension installer can simply modify this saved state to make the browser think the user installed and approved the payload. The same goes for a startup message advertising extensions that have been installed since the last browser run.

    You can't win this fight without OS involvement. The correct solution is application-level sandboxing, which quite a few people are working on.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:07PM (#34375806)

    How would you prevent, say, Microsoft, to write into the file which keeps track of the changes in the plugins?

  • by Lundse (1036754) on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:08PM (#34375814)

    Yes. It is the other's fault.

    The human body is very easy to puncture with a knife, this does not make slashing open your neighbour OK.
    Cars can drive beyond the speed limit, houses can be broken into, people can be swindled, telephones called by telemarketers, etc. etc.

    None of this makes it OK to do any of these things, and just because Firefox is built around a certain design principle (that it should be easy to modify) does not make it OK for others to modify it against the user's wishes.

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:10PM (#34375844) Homepage

    Only slightly less difficult than that, is making the installer mark the add-ons as already approved. Even so, it is still a good idea because while installing a plug-in without permission is a gray area, pretending that the user clicked "yes I want this" when they didn't is probably illegal.

  • by amRadioHed (463061) on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:12PM (#34375866)

    Maybe in his configured UI the Checkboxes were actually X's - and he thought an X beside the item means "Do Not Want" - a common mistake when using X-indicative checkboxes.

    Really? I find that a bit surprising. In all my years I've never encountered a single person who was confused by what an X in a box means, not in computers or in the real world where the practice is just as common.

  • Re:Yes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Corporate Troll (537873) on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:16PM (#34375916) Homepage Journal
    True, but keep in mind that only a privileged user would be able to install anything that has such a payload. So... Not a problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:18PM (#34375940)

    The CAPTCHAs are themed to the article. Slashdot has been doing this for a long time now. People like you keep posting their CAPTCHAs as if it is some humorous and unlikely coincidence that the word has a contextual applicability to the article topic.

    This is on purpose. The system is explicitly designed to do this. Stop acting surprised.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:21PM (#34375970)

    Actually he and his wife have given a couple talks at TED (TED.com) about the foundation he and his wife have setup.

    Yeah, he went from being the 800lb gorilla in computers to being the 800lb gorilla in charities.
    I predict the same level of destruction to that ecosystem too.

  • Re:Yes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sancho (17056) * on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:23PM (#34376000) Homepage

    This kind of problem can be significantly mitigated through the methods suggested by the GP, though. Encrypt the list of enabled plugins with a user password. Now other software may be able to add plugins, but they can't enable them. You could go farther and encrypt the entire plugin directory, but I think that's probably overkill.

  • Re:Yes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tharsman (1364603) on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:23PM (#34376008)

    Exactly what I was thinking. How about they stop being enablers and turn those stealth instals into install requests the user can turn down immediately?

  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Moof (859402) on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:44PM (#34376286)
    It also doesn't help stealth plug-in installations. Not to mention Firefox has no method to remove installed plug-ins, only disable them. Mozilla's official method is to hunt down the file on your system and delete it.

    Needless to say, Mozilla's Plug-in handling leaves a lot to be desired.
  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Monday November 29, 2010 @12:45PM (#34376306)

    Encrypt the list of enabled plugins with a user password

    "Encryption" is the wrong word here. What we're talking about is digital signing. The way it would work is that upon installation, the browser would generate a public-private keypair, encrypt the private key with a password of the user's choice, and save the resulting public key and encrypted private key to persistent storage.

    At all times, the browser would store the list of enabled plugins and sign it with the encrypted private key. Nobody can generate a valid signature for a list of enabled plugins without the password, and the browser will not use a plugin list unless it comes with a valid signature.

    All this is fine as far as it goes, but it'll only work until our malicious plugin installer patches [microsoft.com] the browser binary and makes it skip the key check; the malware could also replace both the public and the private key with replacements of its choosing. Either way, the user may or may not eventually notice that something is wrong, but if he does, it probably won't be a while, and he probably won't be able to track the malfunction back to the evil installer.

    Malware vendors can also wait for the user to type his password when installing a different plugin, then use that password to generate a valid signature for a plugin list that includes anything desired.

    The moral is that applications still need to be sandboxed. They're not protected from each other [msdn.com]. Without OS-level protection, applications can do horrible things (often without needing elevated privileges at all). Half-measures aren't the answer.

  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Monday November 29, 2010 @01:03PM (#34376568)

    My interpretation was in the spirit of intellectual charity, not arrogance; i.e., I gave you the benefit of the doubt, employing the only interpretation that makes any sense.

    Encryption without authentication is worthless. Either you're using symmetric encryption and you make the user enter the password every time the browser wants to read the plugin list (or worse, store the key on disk), or you're using asymmetric encryption and creating a message that can be decrypted by a given public key is simple.

    Encryption *and* authentication is pointless in this case because the browser needs to be able to decrypt plugin information at all times using only information in persistent storage. Encryption does not provide any security properties in this context.

    So we're left with authentication itself being the task at hand, which I assumed is what you meant. But instead of having an adult conversation about the issue, you have a temper tantrum. I'm through.

  • Doomed to failure. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by davev2.0 (1873518) on Monday November 29, 2010 @01:08PM (#34376666)
    This solution requires Mozilla to fix things on their end rather than complaining about big companies doing something Mozilla didn't bother to prevent.
  • by Zumbs (1241138) on Monday November 29, 2010 @01:20PM (#34376906) Homepage
    No, it requires Mozilla to hack Windows and OSX to ensure that programs running with administrator rights cannot change resourses used by Firefox. Which will get pretty messy.
  • by BitZtream (692029) on Monday November 29, 2010 @01:25PM (#34376996)

    Most people place less value on 'managing their computer' than they do on 'living their life', that I'll agree to.

    Saying people place no value in having control over their own hardware is retarded. You have 0 control on how your processor operates internally don't you? Or do you work for Intel or AMD and have some sort of direct control over it?

    Most people don't care about what slashdot users care about. A 'perfect computer setup' is not anywhere on their list of priorities, which I realize is completely blasphemy to most slashdotters, but the reality of it is, most other people have other things in their lives that they value more than dicking around with their PC.

    You place a high value on controlling your PC, they place a high value on something else.

    You live in a hypocritical fantasy where you pretend you have complete control over your PC, while you utterly ignore all the aspects of it that you have absolutely no control over.

  • Java has quirks. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Futurepower(R) (558542) <MJennings.USA@NOT_any_of_THISgmail.com> on Monday November 29, 2010 @01:55PM (#34377368) Homepage
    Java has ALWAYS been a badly managed language. Sometimes programs (not web sites) will only run correctly with an old version of Java.

    Those who supply Java programs often have to deliver an entire Java run-time package to make sure their programs will run.

    The quirky management of Java was extremely strong public relations for Sun. Notice that Sun no longer exists.
  • by d3ac0n (715594) on Monday November 29, 2010 @02:14PM (#34377652)

    The thing is, nontechnical users don't WANT "neutral" verbiage. Part of the problem with many computer dialogs is not that they don't make sense, it's that they don't help you assess the VALUE of the warning they are giving.

    Since most computer users don't have a frame of reference or knowledge from which to assess the value of warnings they receive, we have to supply that for them in the dialog message.

    I think that we can all agree that installing something, ANYTHING, into our browsers without explicit user permission is BAD. Thus, the warning should reflect that. An overly neutral warning will just produce, at best, confusion and at worst, blind "yes" clicks.

    Something along the lines of: "Alert. The following add-on [name of add-on] was recently installed without your explicit permission by [program] Do you wish to approve or deny this plugin access to Firefox? [approve] [deny]"
      Is far more useful to the average user than your "neutral" message.

  • by bberens (965711) on Monday November 29, 2010 @03:24PM (#34378698)
    I recall the day when Sun released a new patch for Java. Everyone auto-updated and all of a sudden the transparency of labels in our app was broken all over the place. Luckily for us there were only a hand full of people using our app on a Windows desktop OS (most are CE). So rather than going back and redoing the layout for all of our screens we just handed people a functioning JRE. That was an annoying day when a bug was introduced into our app by the platform vendor.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 29, 2010 @08:03PM (#34382634)

    This kind of crap is a problem with software in general, not just browser plug-ins.
    Seems like many programmers think you bought the computer explicitly to run their software and nothing else.
    Or at the very least, they figure they have every right to do whatever they want to your computer.

    MS should (at the OS level) never have allowed this kind of behavior, but since they are also one of the offenders, it's not surprising.

  • Mozillas Fault (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @04:13AM (#34386194) Homepage Journal

    So, why does Firefox then enable and run those plugins, eh? If you really think they are evil, put your money where your mouth is, keep an internal list of enabled plugins, not editable from outside sources, and if a new plugin is detected, throw up a dialog asking the user if he wants it enabled or not.

    If you provide the functionality, don't whine if people use it. If your browser will happily activate and use any plugins I throw into its plugin directory, stop crying if I do.

  • Simple English (Score:2, Insightful)

    by leptechie (1937384) on Tuesday November 30, 2010 @07:55AM (#34387192) Homepage
    Dear User Firefox/IE/Safari/Opera/Chrome detected that two plugins were recently installed from a source outside your browser. If you were informed about this by the program that installed it, please review this information anyway.
    • pluginName has a link to the author's website and a description here, and the process to deactivate, uninstall or upgrade the plugin can be found at this link. If you were not notified by the author that this plugin would be installed, please contact them at this email address or report it to the Development Team at this link.
    • OtherPluginName does not appear to have either: (1) information on the author, (2) any links to processes for deactivation, uninstallation or upgrade, and/or (3) a contact address for you to submit problems or questions to the author. The plugin has been disabled as a precaution, you can re-enable it here. You can read more about unsafe or stealth plugins here. Know your Rights.

    Disable All, Disable Incomplete, Enable All

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984

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