Veil: Private Browsing Semantics Without Browser-side Assistance


F. Wang and J. Mickens, “Veil: Private Browsing Semantics Without Browser-side Assistance,” in NDSS, San Diego, CA, 2018.


All popular web browsers offer a "private browsing mode." After a private session terminates, the browser is supposed to remove client-side evidence that the session occurred. Unfortunately, browsers still leak information through the file system, the browser cache, the DNS cache, and on-disk reflections of RAM such as the swap file.

Veil is a new deployment framework that allows web developers to prevent these information leaks, or at least reduce their likelihood. Veil leverages the fact that, even though developers do not control the client-side browser implementation, developers do control 1) the content that is sent to those browsers, and 2) the servers which deliver that content. Veil web sites collectively store their content on Veil's blinding servers instead of on individual, site-specific servers. To publish a new page, developers pass their HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files to Veil's compiler; the compiler transforms the URLs in the content so that, when the page loads on a user's browser, URLs are derived from a secret user key. The blinding service and the Veil page exchange encrypted data that is also protected by the user's key. The result is that Veil pages can safely store encrypted content in the browser cache; furthermore, the URLs exposed to system interfaces like the DNS cache are unintelligible to attackers who do not possess the user's key. To protect against post-session inspection of swap file artifacts, Veil uses heap walking (which minimizes the likelihood that secret data is paged out), content mutation (which garbles in-memory artifacts if they do get swapped out), and DOM hiding (which prevents the browser from learning site-specific HTML, CSS, and JavaScript content in the first place). Veil pages load on unmodified commodity browsers, allowing developers to provide stronger semantics for private browsing without forcing users to install or reconfigure their machines. Veil provides these guarantees even if the user does not visit a page using a browser's native privacy mode; indeed, Veil's protections are stronger than what the browser alone can provide.


Last updated on 12/01/2017