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How to find out if your browser is vulnerable to Spectre attacks

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Web browsers are the main target for attacks targeting the recently disclosed Spectre vulnerability. For home systems, one could argue that web browsers are the major attack vector. Why? Because browsers connect to remote sites, and these sites may run JavaScript to exploit the vulnerability.

Some browser makers pushed out patches fast. Mozilla and Microsoft did for instance whereas Google and the whole Chromium-based group of browsers are not patched yet.

There are ways to mitigate the issue in Chrome and other Chromium-based browsers such as Opera or Vivaldi. To mitigate known attack forms, users or admins have to enable strict site isolation in the web browser to do so.

While you can check whether your Windows operating system is vulnerable, you could not check whether your web browser is patched or vulnerable up until now.

Web browser Spectre Check

This uncertainty is a thing of the past however as Tencent’s XUANWU Lab released an online tester that checks whether web browsers are vulnerable to Spectre.

Visit the Lab’s website to get started. You find a “click to check” button at the top that you need to activate to run the test.

It does not take long to test browsers. Some checks complete almost right away while others take longer to complete and involve cache processing.

Here is a quick list of tested browsers and their vulnerability status (always assume the latest version):

  • Firefox — not vulnerable
  • Firefox ESR — not vulnerable
  • Internet Explorer 11 — not vulnerable
  • Microsoft Edge — not vulnerable
  • Pale Moon — not vulnerable
  • Waterfox — not vulnerable
  • Chromium (latest) — not vulnerable
  • Google Chrome Canary — not vulnerable
  • Google Chrome Stable — vulnerable*
  • Opera Stable — vulnerable*
  • Vivaldi Stable — vulnerable*
  • Brave — vulnerable

*not vulnerable if you enable strict site isolation in the web browser.

Tencent’s security team notes that a result of vulnerable means that Spectre-based attacks will work in the browser. A status of not vulnerable, however, does not necessarily mean that the browser is adequately protected. It is protected against a known attack, but it is possible that unknown attack methods may exist that can exploit the issue still.

The team promises to improve the tool in the future.

Closing Words

While there is still a bit of uncertainty left after your browser tested as not vulnerable in the test, it is still reassuring that known attacks can’t exploit the vulnerability. A good defense against potential attacks is the disabling of JavaScript or scripts in general. This makes the web less usable, however.

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