When opening a link in a new tab with
target="_blank", unless otherwise specified, the target is passed some information about the originating webpage. Often this does not pose any security risk, but in cases where the URL in question is somewhat untrusted, it could be wise to enforce some protection in this regard. Or at least, this used to happen, nowadays most browsers changed this default behavior and do not pass any information regarding the opener by default, yet the previous behavior still applies when a new tab is opened using
The two main vectors of compromise are:
Refererheader: it informs the target web server of the URL of the page that initiated the loading of the present resource;
Windowobject of the page that initiated the navigation in the new tab.
The former is critical if the originating page holds some sensitive data in the URL (which it shouldn’t) and can be abused to perform a subtle yet nasty phishing attack. The
rel HTTP attribute of the
a elements can be used to alter these default behaviors.
Referer header might disclose unwanted sensitive information about the originating webpage to external servers.
Allowing the next origin to interact with
window.opener can be used to set up the following phishing scenario. Suppose that some legitimate web application allows untrusted users to add external links in one of its pages, for example:
<a href="http://attacker.com/trigger.html" target="_blank">Click me!</a>
When a user clicks on the above link, the
http://attacker.com/trigger.html is loaded in a new tab. Now, assume that this target page contains the following HTML:
<script> window.opener.location = 'http://attacker.com'; </script> <a href="#" onclick="window.close()">Close this tab</a>.
What happens upon loading is that the malicious page
trigger.html uses the
window.opener property to load a different URL (
http://attacker.com) which, for the sake of the narrative, represents a phishing page that mimics the original legitimate page. Inattentive users may simply click
Close this tab to return to the malicious web page and continue to use the web site as if it were the legitimate one.
Prevention is achieved courtesy of two
rel attribute values that control what is passed to the next origin, respectively:
noopener. In older browsers,
noreferrer was also used to prevent the next origin from accessing
window.opener, so it is advisable to employ both:
<a href="http://attacker.com/trigger.html" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">Click me!</a>
In the case of
window.open(), if it is really needed, we can still pass such attributes with:
window.open('http://attacker.com/trigger.html', '_blank', 'noreferrer noopener')
Verify that the application enforces the correct referrer policy instructions.
- OWASP ASVS: 14.4.6