Academics from Greece have devised a new browser-based attack that can allow hackers to run malicious code inside users’ browsers even after users have closed or navigated away from the web page on which they got infected.
This new attack, called MarioNet, opens the door for assembling giant botnets from users’ browsers. These botnets can be used for in-browser crypto-mining (crypto jacking), DDoS attacks, malicious files hosting/sharing, distributed password cracking, creating proxy networks, advertising click-fraud, and traffic stats boosting, researchers said.
The MarioNet attack is an upgrade to a similar concept of creating a browser-based botnet that was described in the Puppetnets research paper 12 years ago, in 2007.
The difference between the two is that MarioNet can survive after users close the browser tab or move away from the website hosting the malicious code.
This is possible because modern web browsers now support a new API called Service Workers. This mechanism allows a website to isolate operations that rendering a page’s user interface from operations that handle intense computational tasks so that the web page UI doesn’t freeze when processing large quantities of data.
Technically, Service Workers are an update to an older API called Web Workers. However, unlike web workers, a service worker, once registered and activated, can live and run in the page’s background, without requiring the user to continue browsing through the site that loaded the service worker.
MarioNet (a clever spelling of “marionette”) takes advantage of the powers provided by service workers in modern browsers.
The attack routine consists of registering a service worker when the user lands on an attacker-controlled website and then abusing the Service Worker SyncManager interface to keep the service worker alive after the user navigates away.
The attack is silent and doesn’t require any type of user interaction because browsers don’t alert users or ask for permission before registering a service worker. Everything happens under the browser’s hood as the user waits for the website to load, and users have no clue that websites have registered service workers as there’s no visible indicator in any web browser.