A First Look at the Privacy Harms of the Public Suffix List

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Proceedings of the ACM Internet Measurement Conference, October .


The public suffix list is a community-maintained list of rules that can be applied to domain names to determine how they should be grouped into logical organizations or companies. We present the first large-scale measurement study of how the public suffix list is used by open-source software on the Web and the privacy harm resulting from projects using outdated versions of the list. We measure how often developers include out-of-date versions of the public suffix list in their projects, how old included lists are, and estimate the real-world privacy harm with a model based on a large-scale crawl of the Web. We find that incorrect use of the public suffix list is common in open-source software, and that at least 43 open-source projects use hard-coded, outdated versions of the public suffix list. These include popular, security-focused projects, such as password managers and digital forensics tools. We also estimate that, because of these out-of-date lists, these projects make incorrect privacy decisions for 1313 effective top-level domains (eTLDs), affecting 50,750 domains, by extrapolating from data gathered by the HTTP Archive project.

Download: mcquistin2023psl.pdf