SECURITY, CENSORSHIP & COPYRIGHT

4. September 2006, 22:00 | by WD Milner | Full Article |

Microsoft researchers are apparently experimenting with an automatic “edit and replace” function for inclusion in the Internet Explorer Web browser.

An article by Ryan Naraine on eWeek.com provides a first glimpse of the possible future of the web browsing experience.

The BrowserShield would be a feature in Internet Explorer which would analyse a web page as it was being downloaded to the browser, and remove/replace any code deemed “malicious” before it could reach the user’s browser. The concept is described by its conceiver Helen Wang, of Microsoft’s Systems and Networking Research Group, as a tool for deleting embedded scripts before a Web page is displayed on a browser, can inspect and clean both static and dynamic content.

Ms. Wang has indicated that BrowserShield is designed as a framework rather than an application feature which could also potentially allow it to be deployed outside of browsers, at the enterprise firewall level or in servers. It could also include additional features as the prototype was built to support add-ons for securing AJAX applications and to block things such as phishing attempts.

While this sounds like an excellent buffer against malicious scripts, zero-day exploits and similar bugs, especially between patch cycles, it also raises some interesting, if not disturbing questions.

The first, an obvious one, is what the program considers malicious? A second is how prone to false positives is its detection mechanism? The third is a question of copyright. Does the browser maker have the right to alter the website? Many will say (and have said in comment to the eWeek article) that this is “fair use” but is it really? In the same vein, “fair use” provisions are part of United States copyright law, but don’t exist everywhere.

Setting aside the potential technical and copyright pitfalls, a more disturbing possibility comes to mind. This type of system could be easily modified to actually control what users are permitted to see, or inject information that is desired to be seen, on web sites, totally unbeknownst to the viewer, and beyond their control even if aware of the fact. This is especially true if, as indicated, this could be deployed on a server at the border of a network. With internet censorship widespread in parts of the world, such as China, already, and increasing - even in the “enlightened and democratic west”, this could be a very sharp double edged sword.

Only time will tell whether this proves a benefit or a curse. Most likely, as is the case with much technology, it will be a bit of both.

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Categories: ,
Keywords: security,copyright,censorship,Microsoft,Internet Explorer,browser

Comments


Thomas Sat Jun 16, 07:11 PM
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I think you are overreacting, i dont think there will be a dramatic change of the internet anytime in the near future

 



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