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Browser implementations of content security policy introduce security problems

We review how attackers can use a browser’s content security policy to trick users and potentially gather personal information, with a Facebook example.

In an article from August 2014, Pascal Landau describes how to deanonymize Facebook users by brute forcing Content Security Policy (CSP). The idea is an attacker tricks a user who is currently logged into Facebook to go to the attacker’s page. The attacker page has an iframe pointing to with the CSP policy listing multiple Facebook profile pages. If the user is currently logged in, the page automatically redirects to the user’s Facebook profile (e.g.; otherwise, it redirects the user to If the user’s profile is in CSP source list, the page is be loaded; otherwise, an error message is reported. To catch the error/success messages, Landau is using postMessage API assigned to the “onerror” and “onload” handlers of the iframe. Therefore, if the correct user profile URL is in the CSP policy and in one of the iframes, the attacker site gets a postMessage saying that the iframe with the certain URL loaded successfully.

The reason for this attack’s success is that the policy violation reports sent by the browsers may be exposing too much information. This may result in gathering personal information such as if a victim is currently logged in to Facebook or any other site, the Facebook profile name of the victim is or any other URL that the victim is currently using.

The situation described by Landau is based on the assumption of using Google Chrome as a browser. There are a couple causes that make the attack possible with Google Chrome:

  1. Google Chrome allows developers to specify a full URI in the CSP policy, all the way to the file name. In Landau’s example, the CSP policy is differentiating sources between and
  2. When Google Chrome sends the JSON-formatted violation report to the URL specified with the ‘report-uri’ directive, it only denotes the origin of the blocked URL and not the full URL:

    Therefore, Landau needs to use postMessage API to report success of failure for the iframe.

These two causes, on one hand, allowed Landau to differentiate between the two URLs within when setting a policy, and on the other hand, forced to use the complex and time consuming binary search to identify the user’s Facebook profile URL. Moreover, because the reports do not provide the exact violation URI, Landau had to use cumbersome postMessage API with event handlers to signify if the resource was loaded successfully.

Interestingly enough, the CSP implementation in various browsers is somewhat different.

Firefox differs from Chrome in two ways:

  1. Firefox does not distinguish between the different pages within the same origin when the source of the directive is specified. For example, the following policy
    Content-Security-Policy: frame-src

    allows loading iframes from both and The origin source is defined at the host name level and the specific pages do not matter for Firefox.

  2. The policy violation reporting is also different in Firefox. The JSON-formatted report contains the full URL of the violating resource in the “blocked-uri” field:

Consequently, even though Firefox provides more detailed information regarding the violation, the same attack will not work here, because the CSP of the browser simply does not differentiate between the two links: and

Opera behaves similar to Google Chrome in the reporting functionality. It only reports the host of the blocked resource and not the full URL. As for the granularity of the source in the policy, Opera behaves like Firefox, defining allowed source at the host level. Opera, similar to Firefox, does not differentiate between the different pages within Opera provides the least level of details when configuring CSP and its reports and, arguably, the highest level of security. Although the detailed URI for the violating resource may be valuable information for security specialists protecting the site, this information may be used to monitor the attacks on the site and respond when necessary.

Safari implements CSP similar to Firefox. It does not differentiate between the different pages within the same domain, like and As for Internet Explorer, it still does not fully support Content Security Policy as of version 11.

What is the “correct” way of implementing CSP? The definition of CSP by W3C says that the source list should only specify the origin of the document, meaning “scheme+host+port”:

host-source = [ scheme "://" ] host [ port ]
scheme =
host = "*" / [ "*." ] 1*host-char *( "." 1*host-char )
port = ":" ( 1*DIGIT / "*" )

This definition does not include the full path to the page. Consequently, the source list definition on the Mozilla Developer Network is in line with W3C Candidate Recommendation:

A source list is a string specifying one or more Internet hosts by name or IP address, as well as an optional URL scheme and/or port number. The site’s address may include an optional leading wildcard (the asterisk character, “*”), and you may use a wildcard (again, “*”) as the port number, indicating that all legal ports are valid for the source. The hosts are space-delimited.

Therefore, Google Chrome did not implement the CSP exactly according to the W3C definition. The fact that Chrome differentiates different pages within the same origin when setting source lists in CSP makes users of this browser vulnerable to the attack described by Landau. Other browsers implement the CSP closely to the W3C definition and are therefore not vulnerable to the attack. It would be interesting to know what caused Chrome to make these decisions.

As for the different formats of the violation reports, the W3C Candidate Recommendation says that “this section is non-normative”. Hence, browsers are free to select the format and the level of detail in the report.

A suggestion to the browser maintainers on how to make CSP implementation secure in the case of source lists would be to follow the W3C recommendation more closely. Browsers should only allow specifying the source list at the origin level. As for the granularity of the violation report, both options (specifying the full URL and specifying only the violating origin) are secure. However, the developers and security specialists would prefer to have more information about the attack. So providing a full URL of the violating resource will probably be preferable.

Ksenia Peguero

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Ksenia Peguero

Ksenia Peguero

Ksenia Peguero, is a senior research manager at Synopsys, where she is managing the R&D team for the Rapid Scan Static engine, the next gen approach to SAST. Her research expertise ranges from security of web stack, to mobile languages, to cloud environments, and infrastructure as code. Before diving into research and engineering, Ksenia had a consulting career in a variety of application security practices including penetration testing, threat modeling, code review, and static analysis tool design, customization, and deployment. During her decade in application security, Ksenia has established and evolved secure coding guidance and practices for many firms, developed and delivered numerous software security trainings, and presented at conferences around the world, such as RSA and OWASP AppSec Global. Ksenia holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from George Washington University.

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