Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL) and Harvard University proposed a new system that enforces privacy protections for users — without any help from their web browsers.

The system, known as Veil, allows developers to set up private browsing measures for their pages. According to the researchers’ paper, the system requires no assistance from the user’s web browser, yet can still reduce the likelihood of information leakages resulting from a browser’s privacy mode.

A Unique Approach to Private Browsing

After developers feed their HTML and CSS files through Veil’s compiler, the system searches for cleartext URLs in the data. It then applies the user’s secret key to the URLs it locates and coverts them to blinded references — encrypted URLs that are cryptographically unlinkable — so that attackers can’t trace them back to their original forms.

Blinding servers then receive items uploaded by the compiler and collaborate with the page’s JavaScript to create the blinded URLs. The program also changes the syntax of a page’s content, which alters the clientside representation of the page for each user.

Where Web Browser Protections Fail

The use of blinding servers differentiates Veil from existing private browsing modes, which commonly use the file system or SQLite database to store a session’s data. However, these tools don’t completely delete that information when the session ends.

Curious individuals can also learn about a private browsing mode session by obtaining a webpage state using random access memory (RAM) reflections after the session’s termination. Such weaknesses make it difficult to fully protect users’ privacy when they’re using a private browsing mode.

In the paper, the researchers noted that the way browsers work also contributes to security gaps. “Web browsers are complicated platforms that are continually adding new features (and thus new ways for private information to leak),” they wrote. “As a result, it is difficult to implement even seemingly straightforward approaches for strengthening a browser’s implementation of incognito modes.”

Hope for the Future

The researchers asserted that Veil can have numerous practical applications for helping developers protect users’ digital privacy when browsing the web. For example, they envision developers of a whistleblowing service using the system to prevent employers from tracking visits to the site on employees’ workstations.

Veil can’t protect users’ privacy in every scenario, however. It only works against local attackers who access a user’s computer after terminating a private browsing session. In addition, the system is currently powerless against situations in which a bad actor compromises the computer during a protected session and uses keylogging to exfiltrate sensitive information. These risks highlight the importance of users and organizations taking appropriate steps to protect themselves against phishing attacks and other digital threats.

More from

Vulnerability resolution enhanced by integrations

2 min read - Why speed is of the essence in today's cybersecurity landscape? How are you quickly achieving vulnerability resolution?Identifying vulnerabilities should be part of the daily process within an organization. It's an important piece of maintaining an organization’s security posture. However, the complicated nature of modern technologies — and the pace of change — often make vulnerability management a challenging task.In the past, many organizations had to support manual integration work to get different security systems to ‘talk’ to each other. As…

How I got started: SIEM engineer

2 min read - As careers in cybersecurity become increasingly more specialized, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) engineers are playing a more prominent role. These professionals are like forensic specialists but are also on the front lines protecting sensitive information from the relentless onslaught of cyber threats. SIEM engineers meticulously monitor, analyze and manage security events and incidents within an organization. They leverage SIEM tools to aggregate and correlate data, enabling them to detect anomalies, identify potential threats and respond swiftly to security…

Tequila OS 2.0: The first forensic Linux distribution in Latin America

3 min read - Incident response teams are stretched thin, and the threats are only intensifying. But new tools are helping bridge the gap for cybersecurity pros in Latin America.IBM Security X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2023 found that 12% of the security incidents X-force responded to were in Latin America. In comparison, 31% were in the Asia-Pacific, followed by Europe with 28%, North America with 25% and the Middle East with 4%. In the Latin American region, Brazil had 67% of incidents that X-Force…

Cost of a data breach 2023: Geographical breakdowns

4 min read - Data breaches can occur anywhere in the world, but they are historically more common in specific countries. Typically, countries with high internet usage and digital services are more prone to data breaches. To that end, IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023 looked at 553 organizations of various sizes across 16 countries and geographic regions, and 17 industries. In the report, the top five costs of a data breach by country or region (measured in USD millions) for 2023…