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Rise Of HTML5 Brings With It Security Risks

HTML5 is the new "it" protocol on the Internet. Among other things, it is an alternative to Adobe's Flash for displaying content through a Web browser. No less an industry authority than the late Steve Jobs declared in 2010 that browsers on Apple devices such as the iPad would support HTML5 and not Flash. But as HTML5 gains wider adoption, some of its security flaws are beginning to get noticed, including the WebSocket specification that renders Web pages more quickly than does Flash.

The fourth potential flaw relates to one of the HTML5's best features. The WebSocket API enables two-way communication over one transmission control protocol (TCP) socket. The web site uses the example of a stock ticker Web application to explain how WebSocket works. In a traditional HTTP designed browser, in order to display the most current price for a stock, the browser constantly pings the Web server for new information, a process called "polling." Because that wastes time and compute resources, WebSocket allows the web server to push the information out to the browser only when it has new information to share.

The feature, called asynchronous full duplex communication, drastically reduces the amount of unnecessary traffic between server and browser, says Bulman. In the example of the stock ticker app accessed by 10,000 end users in the experiment, the data traffic reduction ratio was 500 to 1.

The downside is that WebSocket disables a number of important network security tools. It takes over key network ports such as Port 80 that screen packets for any maladies and, in a WebSocket port, the packets lack the traditional headers that would be seen by a web application firewall to block suspicious packets. Reputation-based defenses also fail with WebSocket deployed.

Wedge Networks' solution to this dilemma is an approach it calls "deep content inspection," a feature, introduced in November 2011, of its WedgeOS operating system that powers its security appliances.

"We judge the content, the structure and the intent of the data in motion," says Hongwen Zhang, CEO of Wedge Networks.

Wedge offers a "unique architecture" to deliver high performance deep packet inspection, wrote Chenxi Wang, a Forrester analyst, in a report providing a market overview for the content security space for the third quarter of 2011.

"Using this deep content inspection engine, customers can conduct in-depth malware detection, DLP processing and content classification at line speed," Wang notes.

But Wedge competes with a number of well-known players in this space, including Cisco, Google, McAfee, Microsoft, Sophos and Symantec, among others, she said.

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