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Secure Cross-Site (Cross-Domain) Scripting

by Frozen Mountain Software, on January 30, 2009

In the past few months, we have been actively developing WebSync, a product and service that will allow developers to synchronize web content securely across multiple browser sessions. Using a technique known as long-polling or "comet", it enables real-time connections among website users.

Part of our plan is to allow the development community to use our server (in beta) as a hosted serviceto let people understand its advantages and prove its usefulness.

The process of developing a drop-in client-side script that would allow remotely-hosted real-time browser synchronization was not a simple one. In particular, cross-site scripting proved most difficult.

For our application, we needed to be able to:

  1. Have JavaScript code from the client's domain pass data into JavaScript code on the server's domain.
  2. Have JavaScript code from the server's domain pass data into JavaScript code on the client's domain.
  3. Have the JavaScript code from the server's domain maintain a client state (i.e. server frame could not be disposed).

If cross-site scripting were not completely restricted, we would be able to:

  1. Create an html page on site A.
  2. Embed an iframe in that page with a source page from site B.
  3. Call JavaScript methods in the B-page from JavaScript code in the A-page and vice versa.

It is my understanding that future web browsers will allow this for domains where the communication is explicitly allowed. However, until such features are present and widespread, we have to resort to other means.

Our solution is to provide a "double-proxy" whereby both domains host a small proxy file that routes data in and out. We rely on the window.name property to pass data, which can be set on an iframe by a parent, and read internally by the iframe content.

The general process is actually quite simple.

Assume there are two pages with embedded JavaScript code that need to talk to each other - page A on site A and page B on site B. Each site also has a special proxy page - proxy A and proxy B respectively.

  • Page A creates an iframe whose source is page B.
  • Page A creates a temporary hidden iframe whose source is proxy B and whose window name is the serialized data.
  • Proxy B reads the data from its window name, deserializes it, and passes it into a JavaScript method on page B.

Here's the catch. In order for proxy B to get a reference to page B, it must search its sibling iframes until it finds a match.

The reverse process is very similar.

  • Page B creates a temporary hidden iframe whose source is proxy A, and whose window name is the serialized data.
  • Proxy A reads the data from its window name, deserializes it, and passes it into a JavaScript methodon page A.

For proxy A to get a reference to page A, it simply jumps to its grandparent.

Secure Cross-Site (Cross-Domain) Scripting

There are implementation-specific details (i.e. static/dynamic nature of proxy-invoked functions, deserialization timing, proxy life-cycle/recycling, additional domain verification, etc.), but they detract from the core procedure, and so shall be left to the reader as an exercise ;)

The process is not entirely ideal, as for client applications, it requires the uploading of a proxy/callback file on client servers. It is, however, completely transparent to users, and operates beautifully in modern browsers.

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Topics:WebSync

Frozen Mountain Software

Started in 2008 and having grown to over 300 customers in 47 countries worldwide, Frozen Mountain provides cross-platform, licensed Real Time Communication (RTC) SDKs and RTC services that allow your organization to incorporate WebRTC audio/video streaming and mixing, selective forwarding, call signalling and much more into your applications.