Mozilla shares scanning tool, Firefox 3 features

Company reps highlight measures against malware contained in both releases, but also cite goal of fostering more secure coding practices among programmers

Open source browser maker Mozilla has developed a wide array of secure coding analysis tools as part of its internal development process, and now it's beginning to share those programs with the outside world.

As part of their presentation at the Black Hat 2007 conference in Las Vegas this week, Mozilla leaders detailed their ongoing efforts to lower the number of available vulnerabilities in their increasingly popular Firefox and Mozilla browsers.

The open source advocates also released their first code-scanning utility to the public.

Window Snyder, the San Francisco-based company's security chief, said that the tool -- built to find holes in JavaScript code -- is only the first of many such fuzzing programs that Mozilla plans to share with other developers going forward.

In the name of trying to foster more secure coding practices across the browser space and in the larger software community, Snyder and Mozilla co-founder Mike Shaver said the company is making its technology available to other developers because they believe it can be of significant use in helping its competitors, which include Microsoft, Opera, and Apple, to clean up their own JavaScript errors.

Even more important, Snyder said, the fuzzing tool could prove useful in helping those vendors protect end-users from browser-based malware exploits -- which she described as the shared goal of all browser security developers, regardless of who they work for.

The spirit in which the company is willing to share the JavaScript fuzzing technology with its rivals reflects the same open approach with which Mozilla approaches all its work, and the company will be pushing hard over the coming months and years to refine their other scanning technologies, Snyder said in an interview with InfoWorld.

"We wanted to make sure that we could do this in a way that allowed us to help other browser vendors minimize risks," Snyder said. "We have a lot more of these internal tools that we'd also like to share, but we first have to make sure that we can do so in a manner that is safe for users and other software developers."

Mozilla already has plans to release two additional fuzzing tools that can be used for testing HTTP and FTP code before the end of this year, she said. The company will release those fuzzers and a spate of similar technologies as fast as it is able to streamline the systems to the point where they can be applied simply and effectively by other vendors.

Snyder said that Mozilla has already received positive feedback on the technology from Opera, which has also told the company that it plans to modify the JavaScript tester for its own purposes.

The security expert acknowledged that such interaction is exactly what Mozilla was hoping for when it decided to pass out its creation.

"Modification such as this is just what we had in mind in bringing the JavaScript tool out," said Snyder. "As other companies use the fuzzer in the ways that best suit their technologies and ultimately improve protection for the end-users, that's when we all start to benefit."

Snyder and Shaver also offered a sneak peek at a handful of new security features that the company is building into its next-generation Firefox 3 browser.

Among the tools that will be added in the browser -- which is slated to arrive sometime before the end of 2007 -- will be extended validation certificates, anti-malware and phishing systems, and stronger password protection, the Mozilla leaders said. The browser will also offer a security interface that gives user the ability to manage all of the various protections.

Another new element of Firefox 3 will be the browser's capability to warn away users attempting to visit known malware sites. In some cases, the browser will even block people from accessing dangerous sites altogether, said Shaver.

"Users can't just ignore the warnings," Shaver said. "This feature is not without controversy, of course, but in order to help customers, we need to make them see the messages, so we have to do these types of things."

According to statistics reported in April 2007 by metrics vendor Net Applications, Firefox currently controls 15.1 percent of the global browser market, with Microsoft's Internet Explorer retaining a dominant 78.6 percent share of computer screens.

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