6 Security Risks to Consider with WebAssembly
Programs and apps are a manifestation of ideas in a digital format. If you can dream it in other languages, WebAssembly can deliver it to the browser. From games ported from Unity to PDF editing on the web and leveraging interactive data from Jupyter and Rust, WebAssembly’s use cases are countless.
WebAssembly is already being used by high-traffic, high-volume and highly established names like Figma and Google Earth, and many are looking to get started with it as well. You can find some great guides to getting started with Wasm online for building your first Wasm-based apps. However, despite its growing popularity, no technology comes without security risks. So, if you’re excited to get started with Wasm, you need to do so with some guardrails, and this article will guide you through some security considerations to keep in mind.
What Is WebAssembly?
WebAssembly is a low-level binary format for executing code on the web. It is designed to be used as a compilation target and be efficient and fast to run. Wasm makes other programming languages available in the browser through a low-level assembly-like language that compacts into binary formats.
Additionally, Wasm aims to enable web developers to port code easily from other platforms to the web. Rather than being platform-dependent, the code can be web accessible through a browser.
How WebAssembly Works
WebAssembly is a web standard that defines a binary format and a corresponding assembly-like text format for execution on the web. It is designed as a portable target for the compilation of high-level languages like C/C++/Rust, enabling deployment on the web for client and server applications.
6 Security Risks to Consider with WebAssembly
WebAssembly is a safe and efficient format for compiling and running web applications. However, there are a couple of limitations to keep in mind when using this technology. Let’s have a look at some of them.
When it comes to web browsers, there is a constant battle between security and functionality. On the one hand, browsers must be secure to protect users from malicious actors. On the other hand, browsers need to be functional to allow users to do what they need to do online.
If a Wasm program runs out of the declared maximum or reaches the browser’s limit, the program will likely crash, causing an unsavory experience for the user. To prevent this, C++ programs have toolchains like emscripten that comes with sanitizers that can help with debugging.
When a WebAssembly program is executed, the code is downloaded and stored in memory. This memory is divided into two parts: the stack and the heap. The stack is used for storing local variables and function parameters, while the heap is used for storing global variables and dynamic data structures.
The stack is managed automatically by the WebAssembly runtime. When a function is called, a new stack frame is created on the top of the stack. This stack frame contains the function’s local variables and parameters. When the function returns, the stack frame is destroyed, and the previous stack frame becomes active again.
The heap, on the other hand, is managed manually by the programmer. Heap-allocated objects must be explicitly freed when they are no longer needed, or memory leaks will occur. It is also the programmer’s responsibility to ensure that heap-allocated objects are not accessed after they have been freed.
WebAssembly can be used to create code that is difficult to understand or reverse engineer. The code is compiled into a binary format, which is then executed by a virtual machine, so it isn’t human-readable and is also difficult to debug.
If a malicious actor can inject code into a WebAssembly module, they can take control of the machine executing it. They can steal sensitive data or even take over the entire machine. Increased cases of code injection through WebAssembly result in machine takeovers for mining cryptocurrency.
When scanning for vulnerabilities, the best method is to get right into the source code itself. This means checking for issues, bugs, potential memory leaks, security vulnerabilities and standard OWASP Top 10 issues before it gets compiled and deployed.
Lack of Integrity Checks
Integrity checks are a security measure to ensure that data has not been tampered with. There are several ways to perform integrity checks, but the most common is to use a checksum. A checksum is a value calculated based on the data in a file. The checksum will also change if the file’s data is changed. By comparing the checksum of a file to a unique value, it is possible to detect if the file has been modified.
Integrity checks are essential for security because they help detect if an attacker has tampered with a file. For example, an attacker might modify a file to bypass security checks or add malicious code. Integrity checks can also detect whether a file has been accidentally corrupted.