An Empirical Evaluation of Security Indicators in Mobile Web Browsers

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Amrutkar, Chaitrali
Traynor, Patrick
van Oorschot, Paul C.
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Mobile browsers are increasingly being relied upon to perform security sensitive operations. Like their desktop counterparts, these applications can enable SSL/TLS to provide strong security guarantees for communications over the web. However, the drastic reduction in screen size and the accompanying reorganization of screen real-estate significantly changes the use and consistency of the security indicators and certificate information that alert users of site identity and the presence of strong cryptographic algorithms. In this paper, we perform the first measurement of the state of critical security indicators in mobile browsers. We evaluate nine mobile and two tablet browsers, representing over 90% of the market share, against the recommended guidelines for web user interface to convey security set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). While desktop browsers follow the majority of guidelines, our analysis shows that mobile browsers fall significantly short. We also observe notable inconsistencies across mobile browsers when such mechanisms actually are implemented. We show where and how these failures on mobile browsers eliminate clues previously designed for, and still present in, desktop browsers to detect attacks such as phishing and man-in-the-middle. Finally, we offer advice on where current standards are unclear or incomplete.¹
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