WhiteHat Security Releases Web Browser to Fight Off Ads, Tracking


WhiteHat Security has been involved in trying to secure the Web for more than a decade. But earlier this week, the company made a move to come at security from a different angle – through the Web browser itself.

The company pulled the covers off a beta version of its own Web browser, nicknamed Aviator. Available as a free download, the browser’s focus can be summed up in two words – privacy and security.

“Browser security has been a topic that both [WhiteHat Security Director of Product Management] Robert Hansen and I have been discussing publicly for years now,” says WhiteHat CTO Jeremiah Grossman in an email. “Many people ask us what browser we use and our answer has always been ‘my own.’ That browser is Aviator. It is a browser that we feel confident in using not only for our own security and privacy, but one that we can now confidently recommend to family and friends when they ask. So in that sense it has been an internal, personal project for years.”

In announcing Aviator, Hansen argued that the major browser vendors choose not to make changes that could run the risk of hurting their market share or ability to make money, particularly when it comes to online ads.

“Popup blockers used to work wonders, but advertisers have switched to sourcing in JavaScript and actually putting content on the page,” Hansen tells Dark Reading in an email. “They no longer have to physically create a new window because they can take over the entire page. Using Aviator, the user’s browser doesn’t even make the connection to Google’s advertising servers so obnoxious or potentially dangerous ads simply don’t load. Aviator uses an extension called Disconnect, which doesn’t block every ad in the world, but it does block enough that it’s a significant improvement in both speed and safety.”

The browser has been designed by default to run in a ‘private mode’ that purges any cookies being stored when the browser is restarted. The browser has also made plugins like Adobe Flash Player and Java click-to-play to limit their use in the name of tracking and malware attacks.

“A large percentage of malware is distributed through Java or Flash exploits via drive-by attacks,” Hansen explains. “Often sites are compromised and malicious content is sourced in or is sometimes distributed through ad networks. By allowing the content to be load-only when the user wants, as opposed to at the whim of whoever has developed the Web page, it reduces the likelihood of exploitation by a huge amount through those commonly used plugins.”

The browser is built off of Chromium. Right now, Aviator only works on Macs, but support for Windows and other operating systems may come in the future.

“Because WhiteHat is primarily a Mac shop, this initial version is Mac OS X,” explains Grossman. “The feedback so far has been very positive and requests for a Windows, Linux and even open source versions are pouring in so we are definitely determining where to focus our resources on what should come next, but there is no definite timeframe yet of when other versions will be available.”

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