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WebRTC Security Considerations

Updated on April 2, 2014
WebRTC Security
WebRTC Security

The Emergence of WebRTC

Many enterprises and developers are excited about WebRTC. The open source project enables browser-based real-time communication between users without the need to download additional software or plug-ins. Quite a few companies are interested in leveraging this new protocol to provide enhanced multimedia experiences for their customers, whether it is gaming or peer to peer video chatting.

But as with any technology innovation, enterprises also need to consider the security implications of enabling media access from within web browsers. With the world’s increasing reliance on electronic networks, privacy and security concerns are top priorities for consumers. Before integrating WebRTC into an application, programmers have to consider whether it is secure or not.

Browser Implementations

One of the biggest fears for consumers and businesses is that hackers can take advantage of WebRTC to gain access to the media stream of any device. To prevent this, the protocol implements a permissions model where the user has to explicitly allow an application access to the camera and/or microphone. The specific implementation of WebRTC differs between browsers, so Chrome and Firefox handle permissions in contrasting ways.

In Chrome, the browser will remember the access settings for the long-term which means that once a user has given access to a particular website, it has access even after the current session has ended. While this is convenient, data can be stolen if the website is compromised. On the other hand, Firefox users have to explicitly give access to an application every time they need to initiate a session. Although it is more secure, it can be very inconvenient if they are accessing the application several times a day.

Security Protocols

Both Chrome and Firefox have also implemented methods to ensure that users are aware of a particular site or app accessing the camera. A small icon is displayed on the current tab which is using WebRTC, providing information at a glance. Another security feature of WebRTC is that it uses the SRTP protocol for media. This means that all calls are encrypted by default and security is not an optional feature. Naturally this reduces the incentive for hackers to steal data since the encryption will pose an additional barrier. A comparison of business VoIP solutions will reveal a different choice for every organization.

The level of security of a particular call however, depends on a number of other factors such as the supporting architecture used for signaling, authorization, identification etc. Nevertheless, the security by default approach encourages developers to incorporate other security enhancing measures into their app. Ultimately, WebRTC may not be hacker proof but it is far safer than most plug-ins and other software currently in use.

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