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FAQ: Clickjacking -- should you be worried?

Nearly all browsers are vulnerable to this new attack class, but details are scarce

September 29, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Last week, a pair of security researchers spread the news that a new class of vulnerabilities, called "clickjacking," puts users of every major browser at risk from possible attack.

Robert Hansen, founder and chief executive of SecTheory LLC, and Jeremiah Grossman, chief technology officer at WhiteHat Security Inc., spilled some beans last week after they gave a semi-closed presentation at OWASP AppSec 2008 in New York.

Maybe because of the catchy name, or perhaps because it's actually serious stuff, clickjacking got some press. But that still leaves open the question: Just how spooky is it? Are we talking run-for-the-hills scary, or is this just another theoretical attack vector? And what should you do to protect yourself?

We have questions, as usual, and fewer straight answers than we'd like.

What is clickjacking? Good question. Getting to an answer, though, is a little tough, since Hansen and Grossman are keeping virtually all details confidential, at least for now. Here's how Grossman put it to Computerworld last Friday:

"Think of any button on any Web site that you can get to appear between the browser walls. Wire transfers on banks, Digg buttons, CPC advertising banners, Netflix queue.... The list is virtually endless, and these are relatively harmless examples. Next, consider that an attack can invisibly hover these buttons below the users' mouse, so that when they click on something they visually see, they actually are clicking on something the attacker wants them to."

In plain English, clickjacking lets hackers and scammers hide malicious stuff under the cover of the content on a legitimate site. You know what happens when a carjacker takes a car? Well, clickjacking is like that, except that the click is the car.

Is clickjacking new? Nope. Not only is it similar to a cross-site request forgery -- a type of vulnerability and attack that has been known since the 1990s -- but Hansen acknowledged that clickjacking goes back several years.

Coincidentally or not, Mozilla last week patched a clickjacking vulnerability in Firefox that was, in turn, a variant of a similar flaw in Internet Explorer that Microsoft first patched in 2003, then patched again in 2004.

How would a clickjacking attack work? We're not sure -- again, because of the paucity of information. But Michal Zalewski, a renowned security researcher who now works for Google, offered up one example.



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