Heads-Up Apple Users, Safari And iOS Are Leaking Your Browsing Activity Right Now

Woman browsing web on MacBook

If you’re a Safari user, either on desktop or iOS, it may be time to change browsers, at least temporarily. More flaws have been uncovered in Safari’s tracking prevention system. In this case, a bug within Safari 15 means that any website is able to track all of your internet activity and even reveal your identity.

At a fundamental security level, web browser technologies follow the "same-origin policy," which puts restrictions on how documents or scripts from one web page can interact with resources from others. For example, a web page from HotHardware.com should not be able to access sensitive resources from YouTube.com, or vice versa for that matter.

Woman working at MacBook

Unfortunately, for Apple device users, Safari has a checkered past when it comes to properly following security fundamentals. The bug at work, called an IndexedDB leak, breaks that security restriction. Whenever a website interacts with a database, like when you log into a site, the browser creates a new, empty database with the same name in all other active frames, tabs, and windows within that browser session. This shouldn’t happen, but the bug allows the data to leak across. The demo video below shows how this happens.

This means that websites have access to details about the other pages you’re visiting that they shouldn’t have. For example, when you log into YouTube, your authenticated Google user ID is exposed to other sites. Malicious websites could not only learn your identity, but even link together multiple separate accounts you might have.

The researchers who discovered this bug have identified more than 30 different websites using IndexedDB. They reported the bug to Apple on November 28, 2021. Apple engineers reported working on the bug as of January 16, 2022, and have marked the issue as resolved. Since the new version of Safari with this fix is as of yet unreleased, the bug persists in the wild.

Until Apple releases the fix, you should probably change browsers ASAP. This apparently won’t help on iOS or iPadOS, though, since all browsers use the affected WebKit engine. However, blocking all Javascript by default, and only enabling it on trusted sites, could help protect you until the fix is delivered.