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Site Isolation: Process Separation for Web Sites within the Browser

Alexander Moshchuk
Nasko Oskov
USENIX Security Symposium, USENIX (2019)


Current production web browsers are multi-process but place different web sites in the same renderer process, which is not sufficient to mitigate threats present on the web today. With the prevalence of private user data stored on web sites, the risk posed by compromised renderer processes, and the advent of transient execution attacks like Spectre and Meltdown that can leak data via microarchitectural state, it is no longer safe to render documents from different web sites in the same process. In this paper, we describe our successful deployment of the Site Isolation architecture to all desktop users of Google Chrome as a mitigation for process-wide attacks. Site Isolation locks each renderer process to documents from a single site and filters certain cross-site data from each process. We overcame performance and compatibility challenges to adapt a production browser to this new architecture. We find that this architecture offers the best path to protection against compromised renderer processes and same-process transient execution attacks, despite current limitations. Our performance results indicate it is practical to deploy this level of isolation while sufficiently preserving compatibility with existing web content. Finally, we discuss future directions and how the current limitations of Site Isolation might be addressed.