Today, WebKit in Linux operating systems is much more secure than it used to be. The problems that I previously discussed in this old, formerly-popular blog post are nowadays a thing of the past. Most major Linux operating systems now update WebKitGTK and WPE WebKit on a regular basis to ensure known vulnerabilities are fixed. (Not all Linux operating systems include WPE WebKit. It’s basically WebKitGTK without the dependency on GTK, and is the best choice if you want to use WebKit on embedded devices.) All major operating systems have removed older, insecure versions of WebKitGTK (“WebKit 1”) that were previously a major security problem for Linux users. And today WebKitGTK and WPE WebKit both provide a
webkit_web_context_set_sandbox_enabled() API which, if enabled, employs Linux namespaces to prevent a compromised web content process from accessing your personal data, similar to Flatpak’s sandbox. (If you are a developer and your application does not already enable the sandbox, you should fix that!)
Unfortunately, QtWebKit has not benefited from these improvements. QtWebKit was removed from the upstream WebKit codebase back in 2013. Its current status in Fedora is, unfortunately, representative of other major Linux operating systems. Fedora currently contains two versions of QtWebKit:
qtwebkitpackage contains upstream QtWebKit 2.3.4 from 2014. I believe this is used by Qt 4 applications. For avoidance of doubt, you should not use applications that depend on a web engine that has not been updated in eight years.
- The newer
qt5-qtwebkitcontains Konstantin Tokarev’s fork of QtWebKit, which is de facto the new upstream and without a doubt the best version of QtWebKit available currently. Although it has received occasional updates, most recently 5.212.0-alpha4 from March 2020, it’s still based on WebKitGTK 2.12 from 2016, and the release notes bluntly state that it’s not very safe to use. Looking at WebKitGTK security advisories beginning with WSA-2016-0006, I manually counted 507 CVEs that have been fixed in WebKitGTK 2.14.0 or newer.
These CVEs are mostly (but not exclusively) remote code execution vulnerabilities. Many of those CVEs no doubt correspond to bugs that were introduced more recently than 2.12, but the exact number is not important: what’s important is that it’s a lot, far too many for backporting security fixes to be practical. Since
qt5-qtwebkit is two years newer than
qtwebkit package is no doubt in even worse shape. And because QtWebKit does not have any web process sandbox, any remote code execution is game over: an attacker that exploits QtWebKit gains full access to your user account on your computer, and can steal or destroy all your files, read all your passwords out of your password manager, and do anything else that your user account can do with your computer. In contrast, with WebKitGTK or WPE WebKit’s web process sandbox enabled, attackers only get access to content that’s mounted within the sandbox, which is a much more limited environment without access to your home directory or session bus.
In short, it’s long past time for Linux operating systems to remove QtWebKit and everything that depends on it. Do not feed untrusted data into QtWebKit. Don’t give it any HTML that you didn’t write yourself, and certainly don’t give it anything that contains injected data. Uninstall it and whatever applications depend on it.
Update: I forgot to mention what to do if you are a developer and your application still uses QtWebKit. You should ensure it uses the most recent release of QtWebEngine for Qt 6. Do not use old versions of Qt 6, and do not use QtWebEngine for Qt 5.