Discovering Browser Extensions via Web Accessible Resources

by Alexander Sjösten, Steven Van Acker, and Andrei Sabelfeld.

DOI, short version PDF, full version PDF

This paper was published and presented at CODASPY 2017.

Browser extensions provide a powerful platform to enrich browsing experience. At the same time, they raise important security questions. From the point of view of a website, some browser extensions are invasive, removing intended features and adding unintended ones, e.g. extensions that hijack Facebook likes. Conversely, from the point of view of extensions, some websites are invasive, e.g. websites that bypass ad blockers. Motivated by security goals at clash, this paper explores browser extension discovery, through a non-behavioral technique, based on detecting extensions' web accessible resources. We report on an empirical study with free Chrome and Firefox extensions, being able to detect over 50% of the top 1,000 free Chrome extensions, including popular security- and privacy-critical extensions such as AdBlock, LastPass, Avast Online Security, and Ghostery. We also conduct an empirical study of non-behavioral extension detection on the Alexa top 100,000 websites. We present the dual measures of making extension detection easier in the interest of websites and making extension detection more difficult in the interest of extensions. Finally, we discuss a browser architecture that allows a user to take control in arbitrating the conflicting security goals.

Source code for crawler can be given upon request.