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Microsoft abandons WebGL plans due to security concerns

If you were counting on WebGL support in upcoming versions of Internet Explorer, you're out of luck for now. Microsoft made the decision to not support WebGL in its current form due to serious security concerns. WebGL, an emerging graphics API from the Khronos Group, is supported and enabled by default in Firefox and Chrome, can be turned on in Safari, and available in an experimental build of Opera.

In a blog post on Microsoft's Security Research and Defense blog, Microsoft identified three key issues that prevent products containing WebGL from passing Microsoft's Security Development Lifecycle requirements. These concerns were similar to those raised last month by Context Information Security.

  • The implementation of browsers supporting WebGL depends on drivers provided by the manufacturers of graphics hardware. Turing-complete code is fed directly to these drivers, which can trigger an attack on the GPU if attackers exploit the drivers, which reside on the kernel level.
  • Security issues that are identified in WebGL have to be delivered by the various OEM and system components manufacturers. Coordinating a vulnerability fix from various third parties is difficult, in comparison to a single effective security-servicing model such as Windows Update or built-in updating mechanisms provided by browsers. Blocking vulnerable configurations is also not an option as according to Microsoft, users may choose to remove the block and stick with a vulnerable setup.
  • There are security mechanisms in modern processors and in software to stop attacks on the system. However, no such consideration is made yet for graphics processors. Thus, it can be a trivial task for sites to trigger system freezes or reboots at will simply by compromising GPUs.

Image Credit: Context Information Security

Update: Firefox 5 will have WebGL disabled by default, according to this Mozilla Security post.

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