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Hidden URLs in phone and tablet browsers

Security Strategies Alert By M. E. Kabay, Network World
May 30, 2011 12:04 AM ET
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The long view of security strategies for your network.

Bill Boyle at Eskenzi PR & Marketing in London just sent me an excellent press release with an analysis by Phil Lieberman, president and chief executive of the privileged identity management specialist Lieberman Software. I’ve just added references and made minor edits, so what follows is entirely the work of Mr. Lieberman and the specialists at Eskenzi PR.

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Internet users should be extremely cautious before installing upcoming netbook/tablet PC versions of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox which hide the URL of Web sites that users visit – a technique known as compact Web page navigation.

Surfing the Web without being completely aware – at all times – of which sites you are using is a dangerous practice, especially for novice users of the Internet. "Although  I can understand the desire to increase the available Web page real estate for users of smaller screen devices, I think that there is a real risk that cybercriminals will target users of Chrome Canary and the upcoming plus unnamed version of Firefox in a bid to silently re-route them to infected Web pages," he said.

"There really needs to be more thought that goes into this compact Web page navigation strategy. It's interesting that Firefox 4 has a LessChrome HD add-on, as this appears to only hide the URL of the page being accessed on selective basis. The danger, however, is that hackers will subvert the code of the add-in, perhaps by using a poisoned software update strategy," he added.

Lieberman went on to say that lessons need to be learned from smartphone Web browsers such as Safari on the Apple iPhone and iPad, which displays the URL details and search engine element at the top of the user’s screens at all times. If users want to see more of the page on a smartphone, they can turn the handset through 90 degrees and then scroll down, he explained. And, he says, users can also zoom in or out of the page to get a better overview of the site in question. The same facility exists on most tablet computers.

As regards to netbooks with 10 inches or less screens, users can use similar techniques to see more of the Web page, such as reducing the size of the text or – shock-horror – using the scroll page down option.

Specialized Web browsers, such as Skyfire for the iPhone/iPad and Android smartphones plus tablets, have their place in the portable Web browsing marketing, he said, but users must be proactive in downloading the apps and then set them up appropriately. "The danger with offering customized versions of browsers with a compact Web page navigation facility as standard is that netbook and tablet computer users will use this version as standard, meaning Internet newbies run the increased risk of a cybercriminal infection,” he said. “This is a really bad development in the Web browser software stakes. Web browser developers would be far better off if they focused their attentions on developing enhanced user control interfaces such as haptic or gesture-based control systems,” he added.

M. E. Kabay, PhD, CISSP-ISSMP, specializes in security and operations management consulting services and teaching. He is Chief Technical Officer of Adaptive Cyber Security Instruments, Inc. and Professor of Information Assurance & Statistics in the School of Business and Management at Norwich University. Visit his Web site for white papers and course materials.

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