Safari, other mobile browsers affected by address bar spoofing flaws

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Security researcher Rafay Baloch has discovered address bar spoofing vulnerabilities in several mobile browsers, which could allow attackers to trick users into sharing sensitive information through legitimate-looking phishing sites.

address bar spoofing mobile

“With ever growing sophistication of spear phishing attacks, exploitation of browser-based vulnerabilities such as address bar spoofing may exacerbate the success of spear phishing attacks and hence prove to be very lethal,” he noted.

“First and foremost, it is easy to persuade the victim into stealing credentials or distributing malware when the address bar points to a trusted website and giving no indicators forgery, secondly since the vulnerability exploits a specific feature in a browser, it can evade several anti-phishing schemes and solutions.”

The address bar spoofing vulnerabilities and affected mobile browsers

Unlike desktop browsers, mobile browsers are not great at showing security indicators that might point to a site’s malicious nature. In fact, pretty much the only consistent indicator is the address bar (i.e. a suspicious-looking URL in it).

So if the attacker is able to spoof the URL and show the one the user expects – for example, apple.com for a phishing site that impersonates Apple – chances are good the user will enter their login credentials into it. The vulnerabilities discovered by Baloch permit exactly that, and affect the:

  • UC Browser, Opera Mini, Yandex Browser and RITS Browser for Android
  • Opera Touch, Bolt Browser and Safari for iOS

“Exploitation all comes down to ‘Javascript shenanigans’,” noted Rapid7’s Tod Beardsley, who helped Baloch disclose the flaws to the developers of the affected browsers.

“By messing with the timing between page loads and when the browser gets a chance to refresh the address bar, an attacker can cause either a pop-up to appear to come from an arbitrary website or can render content in the browser window that falsely appears to come from an arbitrary website.”

Fixes for some, not for others

As 60+ days have passed since the vendors were appraised of the existence of the flaws, Baloch released some details and several PoC exploits.

In the meantime:

  • Apple and Yandex pushed out fixes
  • Opera released security updates for Opera Touch and is expected to do the same for Opera Mini in early November
  • Raise IT Solutions planned to release a fix for the RITS Browser this week, but hasn’t yet
  • UCWeb (the creators of the UC Browser) haven’t responded to the report, and it’s doubtful whether the creator of the Bolt Browser knowns about the vulnerabilities, as they haven’t been able to contact him (disclosure notification bounced when sent to the support email listed)

Users should implement the offered updates (if they don’t have the “auto-update” option switched on). Those who use browsers that still don’t have fixes available might want to consider switching to a browser that’s more actively developed/patched.

But all should be extra careful when thinking about clicking on links received via text or email from unknown sources. These flaws have been remediated, but other similar ones will surely be discovered in the future – let’s just hope it’s by researchers, and not attackers.

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October 21, 2020