Secure Contexts

W3C Candidate Recommendation Draft,

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This specification defines "secure contexts", thereby allowing user agent implementers and specification authors to enable certain features only when certain minimum standards of authentication and confidentiality are met.

Status of this document

This section describes the status of this document at the time of its publication. A list of current W3C publications and the latest revision of this technical report can be found in the W3C technical reports index at

This document was published by the Web Application Security Working Group as a Candidate Recommendation Draft using the Recommendation track. This document is intended to become a W3C Recommendation.

The (archived) public mailing list (see instructions) is preferred for discussion of this specification. When sending e-mail, please put the text “secure-contexts” in the subject, preferably like this: “[secure-contexts] …summary of comment…

Publication as a Candidate Recommendation does not imply endorsement by W3C and its Members. A Candidate Recommendation Draft integrates changes from the previous Candidate Recommendation that the Working Group intends to include in a subsequent Candidate Recommendation Snapshot. This is a draft document and may be updated, replaced or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to cite this document as other than work in progress.

The entrance criteria for this document to enter the Proposed Recommendation stage is to have a minimum of two independent and interoperable user agents that implementation all the features of this specification, which will be determined by passing the user agent tests defined in the test suite developed by the Working Group. The Working Group will prepare an implementation report to track progress.

This document was produced by a group operating under the W3C Patent Policy. W3C maintains a public list of any patent disclosures made in connection with the deliverables of the group; that page also includes instructions for disclosing a patent. An individual who has actual knowledge of a patent which the individual believes contains Essential Claim(s) must disclose the information in accordance with section 6 of the W3C Patent Policy.

This document is governed by the 03 November 2023 W3C Process Document.

1. Introduction

This section is not normative.

As the web platform is extended to enable more useful and powerful applications, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that the features which enable those applications are enabled only in contexts which meet a minimum security level. As an extension of the TAG’s recommendations in [SECURING-WEB], this document describes threat models for feature abuse on the web (see § 4.1 Threat Models) and outlines normative requirements which should be incorporated into documents specifying new features (see § 7 Implementation Considerations).

The most obvious of the requirements discussed here is that application code with access to sensitive or private data be delivered confidentially over authenticated channels that guarantee data integrity. Delivering code securely cannot ensure that an application will always meet a user’s security and privacy requirements, but it is a necessary precondition.

Less obviously, application code delivered over an authenticated and confidential channel isn’t enough in and of itself to limit the use of powerful features by non-secure contexts. As § 4.2 Ancestral Risk explains, cooperative frames can be abused to bypass otherwise solid restrictions on a feature. The algorithms defined below ensure that these bypasses are difficult and user-visible.

The following examples summarize the normative text which follows:

1.1. Top-level Documents opened in a top-level browsing context is not a secure context, as it was not delivered over an authenticated and encrypted channel. opened in a top-level browsing context is a secure context, as it was delivered over an authenticated and encrypted channel.

If a secure context opens in a new window, that new window will be a secure context, as it is secure on its own merits:

Likewise, if a non-secure context opens in a new window, that new window will be a secure context, even though its opener was non-secure:

1.2. Framed Documents

Framed documents can be secure contexts if they are delivered from potentially trustworthy origins, and if they’re embedded in a secure context. That is:

If opened in a top-level browsing context opens in a frame, then both are secure contexts, as both were delivered over authenticated and encrypted channels.

If was somehow able to frame (perhaps the user has overridden mixed content checking?), the top-level frame would remain secure, but the framed content is not a secure context.

If, on the other hand, is framed inside of, then it is not a secure context, as its ancestor is not delivered over an authenticated and encrypted channel.

1.3. Web Workers

Dedicated Workers are similar in nature to framed documents. They’re secure contexts when they’re delivered from potentially trustworthy origins, only if their owner is itself a secure context:

If in a top-level browsing context runs, then both the document and the worker are secure contexts.

If in a top-level browsing context frames, which runs, then neither the framed document nor the worker are secure contexts.

1.4. Shared Workers

Multiple contexts may attach to a Shared Worker. If a secure context creates a Shared Worker, then it is a secure context, and may only be attached to by other secure contexts. If a non-secure context creates a Shared Worker, then it is not a secure context, and may only be attached to by other non-secure contexts.

If in a top-level browsing context runs as a Shared Worker, then both the document and the worker are considered secure contexts. in a different top-level browsing context (e.g. in a new window) is a secure context, so it may access the secure shared worker: nested in may not connect to the secure worker, as it is not a secure context. X

Likewise, if nested in runs as a Shared Worker, then both the document and the worker are considered non-secure. X

1.5. Service Workers

Service Workers are always secure contexts. Only secure contexts may register them, and they may only have clients which are secure contexts.

If in a top-level browsing context registers, then both the document and the Service Worker are considered secure contexts.

2. Framework

This section is non-normative.

2.1. Integration with WebIDL

A new [SecureContext] attribute is available for operators, which ensures that they will only be exposed into secure contexts. The following example should help:

interface ExampleFeature {
  // This call will succeed in all contexts.
  Promise <double> calculateNotSoSecretResult();

  // This operation will not be exposed to a non-secure context.
  [SecureContext] Promise<double> calculateSecretResult();

  // The same applies here: the operation will not be exposed to a non-secure context.
  [SecureContext] boolean getSecretBoolean();

interface SecureFeature {
  // This interface will not be exposed to non-secure contexts.
  Promise<any> doAmazingThing();

Specification authors are encouraged to use this attribute when defining new features.

2.2. Integrations with HTML

2.2.1. Shared Workers

The SharedWorker constructor will throw a "SecurityError" DOMException exception if a secure context attempts to attach to a Worker which is not a secure context, and if a non-secure context attempts to attach to a Worker which is a secure context.

2.2.2. Feature Detection

An application can determine whether it’s executing in a secure context by checking the isSecureContext boolean defined on WindowOrWorkerGlobalScope.

2.2.3. Secure and non-secure contexts

The HTML Standard defines whether an environment is a secure context or a non-secure context. This is the primary mechanism used by other specifications.

Given a global object, specifications can check whether its relevant settings object (which is an environment) is a secure context.

3. Algorithms

3.1. Is origin potentially trustworthy?

A potentially trustworthy origin is one which a user agent can generally trust as delivering data securely.

This algorithms considers certain hosts, scheme, and origins as potentially trustworthy, even though they might not be authenticated and encrypted in the traditional sense. In particular, the user agent SHOULD treat file URLs as potentially trustworthy. In principle the user agent could treat local files as untrustworthy, but, given the information that is available to the user agent at runtime, the resources appear to have been transported securely from disk to the user agent. Additionally, treating such resources as potentially trustworthy is convenient for developers building an application before deploying it to the public.

This developer-friendlyness is not without risk, however. User agents which prioritize security over such niceties MAY choose to more strictly assign trust in a way which excludes file.

On the other hand, the user agent MAY choose to extend this trust to other, vendor-specific URL schemes like app: or chrome-extension: which it can determine a priori to be trusted (see § 7.1 Packaged Applications for detail).

Given an origin (origin), the following algorithm returns "Potentially Trustworthy" or "Not Trustworthy" as appropriate.

  1. If origin is an opaque origin, return "Not Trustworthy".

  2. Assert: origin is a tuple origin.

  3. If origin’s scheme is either "https" or "wss", return "Potentially Trustworthy".

    Note: This is meant to be analog to the a priori authenticated URL concept in [MIX].

  4. If origin’s host matches one of the CIDR notations or ::1/128 [RFC4632], return "Potentially Trustworthy".

  5. If the user agent conforms to the name resolution rules in [let-localhost-be-localhost] and one of the following is true:

    • origin’s host is "localhost" or "localhost."

    • origin’s host ends with ".localhost" or ".localhost."

    then return "Potentially Trustworthy".

    Note: See § 5.2 localhost for details on the requirements here.

  6. If origin’s scheme is "file", return "Potentially Trustworthy".

  7. If origin’s scheme component is one which the user agent considers to be authenticated, return "Potentially Trustworthy".

    Note: See § 7.1 Packaged Applications for detail here.

  8. If origin has been configured as a trustworthy origin, return "Potentially Trustworthy".

    Note: See § 7.2 Development Environments for detail here.

  9. Return "Not Trustworthy".

Note: Neither origin’s domain nor port has any effect on whether or not it is considered to be a secure context.

3.2. Is url potentially trustworthy?

A potentially trustworthy URL is one which either inherits context from its creator (about:blank, about:srcdoc, data) or one whose origin is a potentially trustworthy origin. Given a URL record (url), the following algorithm returns "Potentially Trustworthy" or "Not Trustworthy" as appropriate:

  1. If url is "about:blank" or "about:srcdoc", return "Potentially Trustworthy".

  2. If url’s scheme is "data", return "Potentially Trustworthy".

  3. Return the result of executing § 3.1 Is origin potentially trustworthy? on url’s origin.

    Note: The origin of blob: URLs is the origin of the context in which they were created. Therefore, blobs created in a trustworthy origin will themselves be potentially trustworthy.

4. Threat models and risks

This section is non-normative.

4.1. Threat Models

Granting permissions to unauthenticated origins is, in the presence of a network attacker, equivalent to granting the permissions to any origin. The state of the Internet is such that we must indeed assume that a network attacker is present. Generally, network attackers fall into 2 classes: passive and active.

4.1.1. Passive Network Attacker

A "Passive Network Attacker" is a party who is able to observe traffic flows but who lacks the ability or chooses not to modify traffic at the layers which this specification is concerned with.

Surveillance of networks in this manner "subverts the intent of communicating parties without the agreement of these parties" and one "cannot defend against the most nefarious actors while allowing monitoring by other actors no matter how benevolent some might consider them to be." [RFC7258] Therefore, the algorithms defined in this document require mechanisms that provide for the privacy of data at the application layer, not simply integrity.

4.1.2. Active Network Attacker

An "Active Network Attacker" has all the capabilities of a "Passive Network Attacker" and is additionally able to modify, block or replay any data transiting the network. These capabilities are available to potential adversaries at many levels of capability, from compromised devices offering or simply participating in public wireless networks, to Internet Service Providers indirectly introducing security and privacy vulnerabilities while manipulating traffic for financial gain ([VERIZON] and [COMCAST] are recent examples), to parties with direct intent to compromise security or privacy who are able to target individual users, organizations or even entire populations.

4.2. Ancestral Risk

The secure context algorithm walks through all the ancestors of a particular context in order to determine whether or not the context itself is secure. Why wouldn’t we consider a securely-delivered document in an iframe to be secure, in and of itself?

The short answer is that this model would enable abuse. Chrome’s implementation of [WEBCRYPTOAPI] was an early experiment in locking APIs to secure contexts, and it did not walk through a context’s ancestors. The assumption was that locking the API to a resource which was itself delivered securely would be enough to ensure secure usage. The result, however, was that entities like Netflix built iframe- and postMessage()-based shims that exposed the API to non-secure contexts. The restriction was little more than a speed-bump, slowing down non-secure access to the API, but completely ineffective in preventing such access.

While the algorithms in this document do not perfectly isolate non-secure contexts from secure contexts (as discussed in § 5.1 Incomplete Isolation), the ancestor checks provide a fairly robust protection for the guarantees of authentication, confidentiality, and integrity that such contexts ought to provide.

4.3. Risks associated with non-secure contexts

Certain web platform features that have a distinct impact on a user’s security or privacy should be available for use only in secure contexts in order to defend against the threats above. Features available in non-secure contexts risk exposing these capabilities to network attackers:

  1. The ability to read and modify sensitive data (personally-identifying information, credentials, payment instruments, and so on). [CREDENTIAL-MANAGEMENT-1] is an example of an API that handles sensitive data.
  2. The ability to read and modify input from sensors on a user’s device (camera, microphone, and GPS being particularly noteworthy, but certainly including less obviously dangerous sensors like the accelerometer). [GEOLOCATION-API] and [MEDIACAPTURE-STREAMS] are historical examples of features that use sensor input.
  3. The ability to access information about other devices to which a user has access. [DISCOVERY-API] and [WEB-BLUETOOTH] are good examples.
  4. The ability to track users using temporary or persistent identifiers, including identifiers which reset themselves after some period of time (e.g. window.sessionStorage), identifiers the user can manually reset (e.g. [ENCRYPTED-MEDIA], Cookies [RFC6265], and [IndexedDB]), as well as identifying hardware features the user can’t easily reset.
  5. The ability to introduce some state for an origin which persists across browsing sessions. [SERVICE-WORKERS] is a great example.
  6. The ability to manipulate a user agent’s native UI in some way which removes, obscures, or manipulates details relevant to a user’s understanding of their context. [FULLSCREEN] is a good example.
  7. The ability to introduce some functionality for which user permission will be required.

This list is non-exhaustive, but should give you a feel for the types of risks we should consider when writing or implementing specifications.

Note: While restricting a feature itself to secure contexts is critical, we ought not forget that facilities that carry such information (such as new network access mechanisms, or other generic functions with access to network data) are equally sensitive.

5. Security Considerations

5.1. Incomplete Isolation

The secure context definition in this document does not completely isolate a "secure" view on an origin from a "non-secure" view on the same origin. Exfiltration will still be possible via increasingly esoteric mechanisms such as the contents of localStorage/sessionStorage, storage events, BroadcastChannel, and others.

5.2. localhost

Section 6.3 of [RFC6761] lays out the resolution of localhost. and names falling within .localhost. as special, and suggests that local resolvers SHOULD/MAY treat them specially. For better or worse, resolvers often ignore these suggestions, and will send localhost to the network for resolution in a number of circumstances.

Given that uncertainty, user agents MAY treat localhost names as having potentially trustworthy origins if and only if they also adhere to the localhost name resolution rules spelled out in [let-localhost-be-localhost] (which boil down to ensuring that localhost never resolves to a non-loopback address).

6. Privacy Considerations

The secure context definition in this document does not in itself have any privacy impact. It does, however, enable other features which do have interesting privacy implications to lock themselves into contexts which ensures that specific guarantees can be made regarding integrity, authenticity, and confidentiality.

From a privacy perspective, specification authors are encouraged to consider requiring secure contexts for the features they define.

7. Implementation Considerations

7.1. Packaged Applications

A user agent that support packaged applications MAY consider as "secure" specific URL schemes whose contents are authenticated by the user agent. For example, FirefoxOS application resources are referred to by a URL whose scheme component is app:. Likewise, Chrome’s extensions and apps live on chrome-extension: schemes. These could reasonably be considered trusted origins.

7.2. Development Environments

In order to support developers who run staging servers on non-loopback hosts, the user agent MAY allow users to configure specific sets of origins as trustworthy, even though § 3.1 Is origin potentially trustworthy? would normally return "Not Trustworthy".

7.3. Restricting New Features

This section is non-normative.

When writing a specification for new features, we recommend that authors and editors guard sensitive APIs with checks against secure contexts. For example, something like the following might be a good approach:

  1. If the current settings object is not a secure context, then:
    1. [insert something appropriate here: perhaps a Promise could be rejected with a SecurityError, an error callback could be called, a permission request denied, etc.].

Authors could alternatively ensure that sensitive APIs are only exposed to secure contexts by guarding them with the [SecureContext] attribute.

interface SensitiveFeature {
  Promise<double> getTheSecretDouble();

// Or:

interface AnotherSensitiveFeature {
  [SecureContext] void doThatPowerfulThing();

7.4. Restricting Legacy Features

This section is non-normative.

The list above clearly includes some existing functionality that is currently available to the web over non-secure channels. We recommend that such legacy functionality be modified to begin requiring a secure context as quickly as is reasonably possible [W3C-PROCESS].

  1. If such a feature is not widely implemented, we recommend that the specification be immediately modified to include a restriction to secure contexts.

  2. If such a feature is widely implemented, but not yet in wide use, we recommend that it be quickly restricted to secure contexts by adding a check as described in § 7.3 Restricting New Features to existing implementations, and modifying the specification accordingly.

  3. If such a feature is in wide use, we recommend that the existing functionality be deprecated; the specification should be modified to note that it does not conform to the restrictions outlined in this document, and a plan should be developed to both offer a conformant version of the feature and to migrate existing users into that new version.

7.4.1. Example: Geolocation

The [GEOLOCATION-API] is a good concrete example of such a feature; it is widely implemented and used on a large number of non-secure sites. A reasonable path forward might look like this:

  1. Modify the specification to include checks against secure context before executing the algorithms for getCurrentPosition() and watchPosition().

    If the current settings object is not a secure context, then the algorithm should be aborted, and the errorCallback invoked with a code of PERMISSION_DENIED.

  2. The user agent should announce clear intentions to disable the API for non-secure contexts on a specific date, and warn developers accordingly (via console messages, for example).

  3. Leading up to the flag day, the user agent should announce a deprecation schedule to ensure both that site authors recognize the need to modify their code before it simply stops working altogether, and to protect users in the meantime. Such a plan might include any or all of:

    1. Disallowing persistent permission grants to non-secure origins

    2. Coarsening the accuracy of the API for non-secure origins (perhaps consistently returning city-level data rather than high-accuracy data)

      1. UI modifications to inform users and site authors of the risk

8. Acknowledgements

This document is largely based on the Chrome Security team’s work on [POWERFUL-NEW-FEATURES]. Chris Palmer, Ryan Sleevi, and David Dorwin have been particularly engaged. Anne van Kesteren, Jonathan Watt, Boris Zbarsky, and Henri Sivonen have also provided very helpful feedback.


Terms defined by this specification

Terms defined by reference


Normative References

Anne van Kesteren; et al. HTML Standard. Living Standard. URL:
Mike West. Let 'localhost' be localhost.. URL:
V. Fuller; T. Li. Classless Inter-domain Routing (CIDR): The Internet Address Assignment and Aggregation Plan. August 2006. Best Current Practice. URL:
Anne van Kesteren. URL Standard. Living Standard. URL:
Elika J. Etemad (fantasai); Florian Rivoal. W3C Process Document. 2 November 2021. URL:
Edgar Chen; Timothy Gu. Web IDL Standard. Living Standard. URL:

Informative References

David Kravets. Comcast Wi-Fi serving self-promotional ads via JavaScript injection. URL:
Mike West. Credential Management Level 1. 17 January 2019. WD. URL:
Rich Tibbett. Network Service Discovery. 12 January 2017. NOTE. URL:
David Dorwin; et al. Encrypted Media Extensions. 18 September 2017. REC. URL:
Philip Jägenstedt. Fullscreen API Standard. Living Standard. URL:
Marcos Caceres; Reilly Grant. Geolocation API. 1 September 2022. REC. URL:
Andrei Popescu. Geolocation API Specification 2nd Edition. 8 November 2016. REC. URL:
Nikunj Mehta; et al. Indexed Database API. 8 January 2015. REC. URL:
Cullen Jennings; et al. Media Capture and Streams. 21 September 2023. CR. URL:
Emily Stark; Mike West; Carlos IbarraLopez. Mixed Content. 23 February 2023. CR. URL:
Chrome Security Team. Prefer Secure Origins For Powerful New Features. URL:
A. Barth. HTTP State Management Mechanism. April 2011. Proposed Standard. URL:
S. Cheshire; M. Krochmal. Special-Use Domain Names. February 2013. Proposed Standard. URL:
S. Farrell; H. Tschofenig. Pervasive Monitoring Is an Attack. May 2014. Best Current Practice. URL:
Mark Nottingham. Securing the Web. TAG Finding. URL:
Jake Archibald; Marijn Kruisselbrink. Service Workers. 12 July 2022. CR. URL:
Mark Bergen; Alex Kantrowitz. Verizon looks to target its mobile subscribers with ads. URL:
Jeffrey Yasskin. Web Bluetooth. Draft Community Group Report. URL:
Mark Watson. Web Cryptography API. 26 January 2017. REC. URL: