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RE: RIP: ActiveX controls in Internet Explorer?

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> -----Original Message-----
> From: sb@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 
> [mailto:sb@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Simon Brady
> Sent: Sunday, August 31, 2003 6:43 PM
> To: bugtraq@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Subject: Re: RIP: ActiveX controls in Internet Explorer?
> On Sat, 30 Aug 2003, Alun Jones wrote:
> > The descriptions I've heard of this suggest that this 
> patent could be 
> > applied equally to prevent (or grab payment from implementors of) 
> > Javascript, Java, Flash, etc.
> > 
> > I'm with you on the security issues with ActiveX (and 
> Javascript) - I 
> > disable ActiveX on the principle that it has no security 
> > consideration, and Javascript on the basis that it's been 
> frequently 
> > implemented in a vulnerable manner.  But this is a considerably 
> > further-reaching patent than merely killing off ActiveX.  Before we 
> > sing "ding dong the witch is dead", let's have some concern for the 
> > peaceful Wiccans that might be next on the chopping block.
> Java and Flash aren't exactly free of security issues either. 
> In fact, I 
> would go further and argue that the whole notion of a controlled 
> client-side runtime environment for remote code has been an 
> unmitigated 
> disaster for the web (and this is solely from a security 
> perspective - see 
> http://members.optusnet.com.au/~night.owl/morons.html for a 
> refreshing 
> take on the usability crisis they've caused).
> I'm not just referring to current implementations with their 
> appalling 
> defect rates. All client-side runtimes, no matter how well-written,  
> inherently reduce security. That's their function: to give outsiders 
> access to your machine they otherwise wouldn't have.
> Even more insidiously, their prevalence numbs users into a 
> mode of thought that it's quite normal and healthy to let 
> this happen. How can the security community promote safe 
> browsing when users are being forever brainwashed into 
> ignoring or disabling security features for the sake of 
> pointless but pretty downloadable applets? How can we 
> encourage content developers to reduce attack surface when 
> fashion demands yet more gratuitous bells and whistles?
> Web applications belong on the server. The more widely this 
> patent gets applied the better off the browsing public will be.

Client side applications have problems. Server side applications have problems. 
Anything you use has problems. Anything could have a security hole in it. 
Further, when you are talking about "all client side runtimes" -- you may not 
have meant this, but you are talking about the browser itself.

Client side applications may often involved "pointless but pretty" websites, 
but they are also used in just about all ecommerce sites. The pros and cons of 
these sites people could forever debate, but personally I love being able to 
buy stuff in the middle of the night or from across the planet. Who doesn't? 
And, where else can you shop for a new car and not have to deal with annoying 
sales people? Where else can you surf for buyer opinions, the best rates, and 
do your shopping -- but on the internet? [I am not even mentioning doing online 
bills, loans, or countless other such tasks which are made easier by these 

I will not lie, there is a lot of "attack surface" in a browser. There will 
only be more and more as the years progress, if anything. The browser is our 
most central and basic connection to the internet. As such it is destined to 
become more, not less.

Client side attacks will continue to be popular, but bugs being found in 
clients does not mean these clients have become less secure. In fact, if you 
look at applications' bug histories you will note that the bugs generally 
become harder and harder to find, and the time between bug fixes becomes 
further and further apart. This rule holds generally true with all applications.

But, why will client side attacks continue to be popular? There are some very 
simple reasons. One, everybody has a client. Not everybody has a server. Two, 
client side attacks bypass just about every type firewall people may have. 
Three, client side attacks remain remote attacks, despite the fact that 
everybody has a client. Four, yes, there is a wider attack surface than that 
which can be found on servers (generally). 

Four good reasons why these attacks will remain popular.

At the end of the day it all comes down to one's acceptance of new technology. 
Are we demanding that we stay with yesterday's technology, or are we able to go 
forward with new technology? Must we insist websites use 1994 type technology? 
Is this kind of insistence not really based on nostalgia? Is there no danger to 

Apologies for all of the posts this week.

> --
> Simon Brady                             mailto:simon.brady@xxxxxxxxxxx
> ITS Technical Services
> University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
>     I don't speak for my employer, and they don't speak for me.

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