Private Information Disclosure from Web Searches

Daniele Perito


As the amount of personal information stored at remote service providers increases, so does the danger of data theft. When connections to remote services are made in the clear and authenticated sessions are kept using HTTP cookies, intercepting private traffic becomes easy to achieve. In this paper, we focus on the world largest service provider -- Google. First, with the exception of a few services only accessible over HTTPS (e.g., Gmail), we find that many Google services are vulnerable to simple session hijacking attacks. Next, we present the Historiographer, a novel attack that reconstructs the web search history of Google users -- Google's Web History -- even though this service is supposedly protected from session hijacking by a stricter access control policy. The Historiographer uses a reconstruction technique inferring search history from the personalized suggestions fed by the Google search engine. We validate our technique through experiments conducted over real network traffic and discuss possible countermeasures. Our attacks are general and not only specific to Google, and highlight privacy concerns of mixed architectures mixing secure and insecure connections.

Time and Place

July 20 2010 (Tuesday) at 1630 hrs
Gates 4B (opposite 490)