Scrubbing URL fragments from Sentry crash reports

e2ee typescript web privacy sentry

05/01/20 · Romain Clement · 8 minutes read


When activating Sentry crash reporting in JavaScript client-side code, the default mechanism captures and sends the current URL, including any URL fragments. This can pose a privacy issue when dealing with client-side end-to-end encrypted applications.

I faced this issue as I started developing Griffonnage, a real-time end-to-end encrypted collaborative drawing application.

⚓ URL fragments

First things first. What is an URL fragment? It is the optional ending part of an URL materialized after the # character. The part right after the # is named the fragment identifier and it can be used for all sorts of things.

One of the oldest usage is the concept of HTML anchors in order to link to an element on the same web page, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML_element#Anchor (HTML anchor inception).

Another use-case is for developers using Single-Page Applications where the fragment is used for in-browser application routing without page reload. However, this is less common nowadays with the introduction of the HTML5 History Mode, allowing to ditch the URL fragment and to use the browser history programmatically instead.

The nice thing with URL fragments is that their value is never sent during a request to a server and only processed by the browser. This property opens up new possibilities for privacy-first applications.

🔐 End-to-end encryption

Some services such as Firefox Send and Excalidraw (check out those services, there are great!) are using URL fragments extensively in order to deliver end-to-end encryption in a transparent and user-friendly manner. The team behind Excalidraw has even written a blog post about it.

The general concensus is to store a symmetric encryption key within the URL fragment so that the full URL can be shared among users and end-to-end encryption happens behind the scenes. Of course, this puts the responsability of key management in the hand of the end-user, which is a debate for another time.

It usually looks something like this:

https://mysecureapp.com/somepage#base64-encryption-key

As the encryption key contained in the fragment identifier is only available on client-side, the application can load it at startup and use it directly in the client-side JavaScript code.

🚀 Sentry

I have been using the Sentry service for both hobby and professionnal software for the last two years. Crash reports are working great accross all programming languages and frameworks (JavaScript, TypeScript, Python, Rust, Vue.js, React.js, you name it!). Being able to track bugs only when they happen instead of relying on server logs parsing (when you have access to them) is so much more efficient and it helps delivering quality product in no time. Cherry on top: it is open-source and can be easily self-hosted (if that's a requirement)!

The Sentry team has been dedicated to respect user's privacy since the beginning by handling Personnally Identifiable Information with care.

However, this promise falls short when dealing with URL fragments! Indeed, when Sentry emits a crash report using the JavaScript SDK, the full URL is captured and sent to their servers 😱:

{
  ...
  "exception": {
    "values": [
      {
        "type": "TypeError",
        "value": "something bad happened",
      }
    ]
  },
  "level": "error",
  "event_id": "3966a45604f142c49dea2fc1a6a3c42d",
  "platform": "javascript",
  "environment": "production",
  "release": "1.0.0",
  "request": {
    "url": "https://mysecureapp.com/somepage#iBhgO+Z2dhQGDYRiA8==",
    "headers": {
      "User-Agent": "Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10.14; rv:75.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/75.0"
    }
  }
}

In the event snippet above, we can clearly see that Sentry will record the full URL including the fragment identifier:

https://mysecureapp.com/somepage#iBhgO+Z2dhQGDYRiA8==

For most applications, this is not an issue as the information contained within the fragment identifier is not sensitive. But in the case of end-to-end encrypted applications storing an encryption key in it, this is not an option!

Fortunately, there is a way to customize the event sent to Sentry right before it leaves the browser. This way you can simply scrub the URL fragment entirely from the captured url. Here is an example using TypeScript:

import * as Sentry from '@sentry/browser'
import { Event as SentryEvent } from '@sentry/types'

Sentry.init({
  dsn: '<your-sentry-dsn>',
  beforeSend(event: SentryEvent): SentryEvent {
    if (event.request?.url) {
      event.request.url = event.request.url.split('#')[0]
    }
    return event
  },
})

I have applied this very technique to scrub the encryption keys from Sentry reports in Griffonnage (see commit 1d81adf).

Summary

When building secure and privacy-first end-to-end encrypted applications, developers must analyse the ins and outs of the data they are dealing with, especially the ones that are supposed to remain secure! This is where drawing the threat model is necessary and can help identify potential vulnerabilities.

While sharing URLs with encryption keys in it might be a debate, it is still a great and easy way to protect your users data with end-to-end encryption, but as a developer you have to be careful that your application will not send those secrets with 3rd-party services.

On the same subject, if you're thinking about using Stripe as a payment-gateway for your next end-to-end encrypted application using URL fragments to store sensitive data, be careful and think twice (thanks to my friend François Best for the link!).

As a final note, I am having a blast developing Griffonnage to provide my friends with a truly private way to play with collaborative drawing during the COVID-19 lockdown (as an alternative to Skribbl.io and the likes). If you're feeling all nerdy and privacy-conscious, come contribute to the project on GitHub!


Found a mistake? Edit this article on GitHub !