An Expressive Model for the Web Infrastructure: Definition and Application to the BrowserID SSO System

Daniel Fett, Ralf Küsters, Guido Schmitz

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The web constitutes a complex infrastructure and as demonstrated by numerous attacks, rigorous analysis of standards and web applications is indispensable. Inspired by successful prior work, in particular the work by Akhawe et al. as well as Bansal et al., in this work we propose a formal model for the web infrastructure. While unlike prior works, which aim at automatic analysis, our model so far is not directly amenable to automation, it is much more comprehensive and accurate with respect to the standards and specifications. As such, it can serve as a solid basis for the analysis of a broad range of standards and applications. As a case study and another important contribution of our work, we use our model to carry out the first rigorous analysis of the BrowserID system (a.k.a. Mozilla Persona), a recently developed complex real-world single sign-on system that employs technologies such as AJAX, cross-document messaging, and HTML5 web storage. Our analysis revealed a number of very critical flaws that could not have been captured in prior models. We propose fixes for the flaws, formally state relevant security properties, and prove that the fixed system in a setting with a so-called secondary identity provider satisfies these security properties in our model. The fixes for the most critical flaws have already been adopted by Mozilla and our findings have been rewarded by the Mozilla Security Bug Bounty Program.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • cs.CR
  • D.4.6; K.6.5

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