January 21, 2013

Mozilla Claims New PDF Viewer in Firefox 19 with HTML5 will be More Secure

Firefox 19 is in Beta for Linux, Mac and Windows and it comes with several new options, tools and fixes. The HTML5 support includes CSS (NewsAlert)@page, CSS viewport-percentage lengths units implemented (vh, vw, vmin and vmax) and CSS text-transform, which now supports full-width. Additionally, a new in-browser PDF viewer powered by HTML5 and JavaScript has been added that is being tested in beta version. If the reader works as advertised, it will make reading PDF files a seamless transition without having to open third party plug-ins or software, which are points of security breaches.

Only time will tell if the security features the company claims regarding the new reader will be strong enough to withstand the onslaught of attacks it will be receiving. As with any software, the attacks it receives depends on its popularity. If criminals see a large number of people using the new Firefox PDF reader they will go after it and eventually will find holes to exploit. On the other hand, if the number of users is not worth the effort, the reader will be as secure as the company claims because no one will go after it.

"For a number of years there have been several plugins for viewing PDF’s within Firefox. Many of these plugins come with proprietary closed source code that could potentially expose users to security vulnerabilities. PDF viewing plugins also come with extra code to do many things that Firefox already does well with no proprietary code, such as drawing images and text," said Mozilla (NewsAlert) Engineering Manager Bill Walker and Mozilla Software Engineer Brendan Dahl in a blog post.

This problem was what pushed Andreas Gal and Chris Jones to start the PDF.js project at Mozilla Labs. The goal of this reader is to use the new strong points of HTML5 and JavaScript, which allows it to load and render PDF files more quickly and securely in the browser. HTML5 allows the reader to run in different browsers and platforms. As mobile devices become the growing and preferred choice of computing for most people, the adaptability HTML5 provides is an added benefit not only for PDF readers but other applications.

Although the effort Mozilla is putting forth in the security of its browser is admirable, it must be pointed out vulnerabilities are always discovered and breached by attackers all the time. Even if the reader were to be written entirely in HTML5 and JavaScript, any time a new functionality is added that point can become a new source of exploitation in the browser. The benefit of having Mozilla supplying the PDF reader is the company has been very quick in fixing any exploits in its browser in the past. So, any breach in the reader will be fixed quickly, and the same cannot be said for third-party plug-in vendors.

What this reader shows is the potential of HTML5 and what the future holds when it is fully adopted as the go-to standard; this format is getting better every day. When all the major browsers and W3C (NewsAlert) finally come together, it will get more developers to create new tools that are more safe, friendly and adaptable so consumers can use any device or platform without any compatibility issues and with better security features.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (NewsAlert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey


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