Archive for the NoScript Category

OTF-funded security/privacy FLOSS

As the readers of this blog almost surely know, I'm the author of NoScript, a web browser security enhancer which can be installed on Firefox and Chrome, and comes built-in with the Tor Browser.

NoScript has received support by the Open Technology Fund (OTF) for specific development efforts: especially, to make it cross-browser, better internationalized and ultimately serving a wider range of users.

OTF's mission is supporting technology to counter surveillance and censorship by repressive regimes and foster Internet Freedom. One critical and strict requirement, for OTF to fund or otherwise help software projects, is them being licensed as Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS), i.e. their code being publicly available for inspection, modification and reuse by anyone. Among the successful projects funded by OTF, you may know or use Signal, Tor, Let's Encrypt, Tails, QubeOS, Wireshark, OONI, GlobaLeaks, and millions of users all around the world, no matter their political views, trust them because they are FLOSS, making vulnerabilities and even intentionally malicious code harder to hide.

Now this virtuous modus operandi is facing an existential threat, started when the whole OTF leadership has been fired and replaced by Michael Pack, the controversial new CEO of th U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the agency OTF reports to.

Lobbying documents emerged on the eve of former OTF CEO Libby Liu's defenestration, strongly suggesting this purge preludes a push to de-fund FLOSS, and especially "p2p, privacy-first" tools, in favor of large scale, centralized and possibly proprietary "alternatives": two closed source commercial products are explicitly named among the purportedly best recipients of funding.

Beside the weirdness of seeing "privacy-first" used as a pejorative when talking about technologies protecting journalists and human rights defenders from repressive regimes such as Iran or People's Republic of China (even more now, while the so called "Security Law" is enforced against Hong Kong protesters), I find very alarming the lack of recognition for the radical importance of the tools being open source to be trusted by their users, no matter the country or the fight they're in, when their lives are at risk.

Talking of my own experience (but I'm confident most other successful and effective OTF-funded software projects have similar stories to tell): I've been repeatedly approached by law enforcement representatives from different countries (including PRC) - and also by less "formal" groups - with a mix of allegedly noble reasons, interesting financial incentives and veiled threats, to put ad-hoc backdoors in NoScript. I could deny all such requests not because of any exceptional moral fiber of mine, even though being part of the "OTF community", where the techies who build the tools meet the human rights activists who use them on the field, helped me growing awareness of my responsibilities. I could say "no" just because NoScript being FLOSS made it impractical/suicidal: everyone, looking at the differences in the source code, could spot the backdoor, and I would loose any credibility as a security software developer. NoScript would be forked, in the best case scenario, or dead.

The strict FLOSS requirement is only one of the great features in OTF's transparent, fair, competitive and evidence-based award process, but I believe it's the best assurance we can actually trust our digital freedom tools.

I'm aware of (very few) other organizations and funds adopting similar criteria, and likely managing larger budgets too, especially in Europe: so if USA really decides to give up their leadership in the Internet Freedom space, NoScript and other tools such as Tor, Tails or OONI would still have a door to knock at.

But none of these entities, AFAIK, own OTF's "secret sauce": bringing together technologists and users in a unique, diverse and inclusive community of caring humans, where real and touching stories of oppression and danger are shared in a safe space, and help shape effective technology which can save lives.

So please, do your part to save Internet Freedom, save OTF, save trust.

The problem

Google's "Manifest V3" ongoing API changes are severely hampering browser extensions in their ability to  block unwanted content and to enforce additional security policies, threatening the usefulness, if not to the very existence, of many popular privacy and security tools. uBlock's developer made clear that this will cause him to cease supporting Chromium-based browsers. Also EFF (which develops extensions such as HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger) publicly stigmatized Google's decisions, questioning both their consequences and their motivations.

NoScript is gravely affected too, although its position is not as dire as others': in facts, I've finished porting it to Chromium-based browsers in the beginning of 2019, when Manifest V3 had already been announced. Therefore, in the late stages of that project and beyond, I've spent considerable time researching and experimenting alternate techniques, mostly based on standardized Web Platform APIs and thus unaffected by Manifest V3, allowing to implement comparable NoScript functionality albeit at the price of added complexity and/or performance costs. Furthermore Mozilla developers stated that, even though staying as much compatible as possible with the Chome extensions API is a goal of theirs, they do not plan to follow Google in those choices which are more disruptive for content blockers (such as the deprecation of blocking webRequest).

While this means that the future of NoScript is relatively safe, on Firefox and the Tor Browser at least, the browser extensions APIs and capabilities are going to diverge even more: developing and maintaining a cross-browser extension, especially if privacy and/or security focused, will become a complexity nightmare, and sometimes an impossible puzzle: unsurprisingly, many developers are ready to throw in the towel.

What would I do?

NoScript Commons Library

The collection of alternate content interception/blocking/filtering techniques I've experimented with and I'm still researching in order to overcome the severe limitations imposed by Manifest V3, in their current form are best defined as "a bunch of hacks": they're hardly maintainable, and even less so reusable by the many projects which are facing similar hurdles. What I'd like to do is to refine, restructure and organize them into an open source NoScript Commons Library. It will provide an abstraction layer on top of common functionality needed to implement in-browser security and privacy software tools.

The primary client of the library will be obviously NoScript itself, refactored to decouple its core high-level features from their browser-dependent low-level implementation details, becoming easier to isolate and manage. But this library will also be freely available (under the General Public License) in a public code repository which any developer can reuse as it is or improve/fork/customize according to their needs, and hopefully contribute back to.

What do I hope?

Some of the desired outcomes:

  • By refactoring its browser-dependent "hacks" into a Commons Library, NoScript manages to keep its recently achieved cross-browser compatibility while minimizing the cross-browser maintenance burden and the functionality loss coming from Manifest V3, and mitigating the risk of bugs, regressions and security flaws caused by platform-specific behaviors and unmanageable divergent code paths.
  • Other browser extensions in the same privacy/security space as NoScript are offered similar advantages by a toolbox of cross-browser APIs and reusable code, specific to their application domain. This can also motivate their developers (among the most competent people in this field) to scrutinize, review and improve this code, leading to a less buggy, safer and overall healthier privacy and security browser extensions ecosystem.
  • Clearly documenting and benchmarking the unavoidable differences between browser-specific implementations help users make informed choices based on realistic expectations, and pressure browser vendors into providing better support (either natively or through enhanced APIs) for the extensions-provided features which couldn't be optimized for their product. This will clearly outline, in a measurable way, the difference in commitment for a striving ecosystem of in-browser security/privacy solutions between Mozilla and other browser vendors, keeping them accountable.
  • Preserving a range of safe browsing options, beyond Firefox-based clients, increases the diversity in the "safe browsing" ecosystem, making web-based attacks significantly more difficult and costly than they are in a Firefox-based Tor Browser mono-culture.

I want you!

Are you an extensions developer, or otherwise interested in in-browser privacy/security tools? I'd be very grateful to know your thoughts, and especially:

  1. Do you think this idea is useful / worth pursing?
  2. What kind of features would you like to see supported? For instance, content interception and contextual blocking, filtering, visual objects replacement (placeholders), missing behavior replacement (script "surrogates"), user interaction control (UI security)...
  3. Would you be OK with a API and documentation styles similar to what we have for Firefox's WebExtensions?
  4. How likely would you be to use such a library (either for an existing or for a new project), and/or to contribute to it?

Many thanks in advance for your feedback!

As you may have noticed, NoScript Quantum's placeholders for blocked embeddings has an animation moving the NoScript snake icon from the center to the top left side when you hover it, in order to make the label more readable.
Some people can find this annoying, but fortunately in WebExtensions everything is made of standard web stuff, like HTML and CSS, and it's relatively easy to change the placeholder to any appearance you prefer.
In this case, to make it static and discreet, you could use the Stylus extension to create a new "Static NoScript Placeholder" with all the default settings and this content:

a.__NoScript_Placeholder__ {
    background-size: 64px !important;
    background-position: 0 0 !important;
    transition: none !important;
}

I'm pleased to announce that, some hours ago, the first public beta of cross-browser NoScript (10.6.1) passed Google's review process and has been published on the chrome web store.
This is a major milestone in NoScript history, started on May the 13th 2005 (next year we will celenbrate our 15th birthday!). NoScript on the chrome web store

Over all these years NoScript has undergone many transformations, porting and migrations:

  • three distinct Android portings (one for Fennec "classic", one for Firefox Mobile, the last as a WebExtension);
  • one partial rewrite, to make it multi-process compatible;
  • one full, long and quite dramatic rewrite, to migrate it to the WebExtensions API (in whose design and implementation Mozilla involved me as a contributor, in order to make this possible).

And finally today we've got an unified code-base compatible both with Firefox and Chromium, and in possibly in future with other browsers supporting the WebExtensions API to a sufficient extent.
One difference Chromium users need to be aware of: on their browser NoScript's XSS filter is currently disabled: at least for the time being they'll have to rely on the browser's built-in "XSS Auditor", which unfortunately over time proved not to be as effective as NoScript's "Injection Checker". The latter could not be ported yet, though, because it requires asynchronous processing of web requests: one of the several capabilities provided to extensions by Firefox only. To be honest, during the "big switch" to the WebExtensions API, which was largely inspired by Chrome, Mozilla involved me in its design and implementation with the explicit goal to ensure that it supported NoScript's use cases as much as possible. Regrettably, the additions and enhancements which resulted from this work have not picked up by Google.

Let me repeat: this is a beta, and I urge early adopters to report issues in the "Support" section of the NoScript Forum, and more development-oriented ones to file technical bug reports and/or contribute patches at the official source code repository. With your help as beta testers, I plan to bless NoScript 11 as a "stable Chromium-compatible release" by the end of June.

I couldn't thank enough the awesome Open Technology Fund folks or the huge support they gave to this project, and to NoScript in general. I'm really excited at the idea that, under the same umbrella, next week Simply Secure will start working on improving NoScript's usability and accessibility. At the same time, integration with the Tor Browser is getting smoother and smoother.

The future of NoScript has never been brigther :)

See also ZDNet's and GHacks' coverage of the announcement.

Dec 18th 2017 Update

NoScript 10.1.6 reimplements the "Export" button functionality in a more convoluted way, which doesn't require the "downloads" permissions anymore though :) Enjoy!


It seems some users are really upset with NoScript 10.1.5.7 asking for an additional "downloads" permission.
This surprised me a bit. Not just because NoScript 5, which everyone loves to praise in order to bash 10, was all-mighty: like any other "legacy" add-on, it could even format your hard-disk, not before having sent all its content to a remote server in Siberia. But especially because they already granted NoScript 10 itself (like all the other content-blocking WebExtensions, including all the popular adblockers) plenty of much scarier permissions, such as the ability of monitoring and filtering all your network traffic, which I find the scariest of all but, quite obviously, is mandatory for the task you use NoScript for.

Unfortunately the WebExtensions permissions asking prompts don't let authors to explain in advance what a certain permission is used for (yet I did provide this info in the support forum since first release), but for those who couldn't figure it out from the changelog: the "downloads" permission just gives access to the downloads WebExtensions API, which NoScript uses to implement the "Export" feature and let you save a configuration file somewhere on your disk. Because, unlike "legacy" add-ons, WebExtensions cannot interact with your filesystem directly and so must make you "download" the file.

Notice also that instead, just like "legacy" add-ons, and unlike Chrome extensions AFAIK, Firefox WebExtensions are still reviewed at AMO by a trusted staff of experienced add-ons developers, whose job is much easier now because of the simplicity of the new API and, guess what?, because of the explicit permissions: the first thing they do with a new version is looking at the code differences and checking that those permissions are used in a legitimate way. Rob Wu, the reviewer which filtered 10.1.5.7 even suggested alternate ways to implement the Export functionality without the new permission, but we tried those and they just didn't work.

Anyway, if you can't trust with this (modest) power NoScript, a component of the Tor Browser (one of the most scrutinized software pieces on the planet by security experts all over the world), I wonder if it makes sense even trying to complete the WebExtension migration of FlashGot, which is much more frivolous but completely centered around this ultra-frightening "downloads" permission...
10157-options.png

Bad Behavior has blocked 3208 access attempts in the last 7 days.