The Tangled Web

The Tangled Web (ISBN 1593273886) is a security book that you may find interesting even if you’re not interested in security. The first half of the book is an excellent explanation of how Web technologies work in theory and especially in practice. This material is included in order to discuss security implications, but it’s interesting on its own. The second half of the book is directly devoted to Web security.

The author, Michal Zalewski, has a colorful writing style. His book is serious and loaded with technical detail, but that doesn’t stop him from turning a nice phrase here and there.

Here’s an excerpt from The Tangled Web that I particularly liked, one that explains why security concerns on the Web differ from previous security concerns.

In the traditional model followed by virtually all personal computers … there are very clear boundaries between high-level data objects (documents), user-level code (applications), and the operating system kernel … These boundaries are well studied and useful for building practical security schemes. A file opened in your text editor is unlikely to be able to steal your email …

In the browser world, this separation is practically nonexistent: Documents and code live as parts of the same intermingled blobs of HTML, isolation between completely unrelated applications is partial at best …

In the end, the seemingly unlikely scenario of a text file stealing your email is, in fact, a frustratingly common pattern on the Web.

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