In mid-April, security researcher Xudong Zheng publicly disclosed (defined) and provided a demonstration of a security vulnerability within popular web browsers e.g. Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera which may be used in phishing (defined) attacks.
Why should this vulnerability be considered important?
This vulnerability is not the first of kind, e.g. a similar vulnerability exists in how the DNS protocol resolves device hostnames (defined) (when combined with Service Discovery (SD) provides the capability of network resource distribution beyond the reach of multicast normally limited by the MAC Bridge.
However this vulnerability has the potential to allow an attacker to lead you into clicking a legitimate looking link which may lead to an unexpected website (which an attacker can populate with content of their choice). This may happen since an attacker can send you a highly targeted email (i.e. spear phishing) which you may be expecting and inadvertently click an undesired link or enter login details into a legitimate looking website (following a link from such an email).
Mr. Zheng demonstrates how this vulnerability exploits how web browsers translate letters from other non-Latin languages into Latin letters. For example, he registered the website of apple.com which when visited actually displays the website of xn--80ak6aa92e.com but your web browser will still show apple.com This occurs due to the translation of non-Latin letters into Latin characters making use of Punycode (a recognized standard of the Internet Engineering Task Force).
How can I protect myself from this vulnerability?
While the conventional advice of hovering over any link before clicking to view its actual destination is not redundant it is now significantly less useful.
If you use a password manager which works with your web browser it will not enter your username/password into a website translated from its Punycode. For example, your Apple credentials would not be entered into xn--80ak6aa92e.com
Google has addressed this vulnerability with the release of Chrome version 58. Opera also resolved this issue. Mozilla is currently considering the best means to resolve this vulnerability (Firefox 53 mistakenly shows apple.com) . In the meantime; Mozilla Firefox users can use the steps mentioned at the end of this news article to mitigate this issue.
For any website important to you, please manually type its address into your web browsers address bar to visit the legitimate website. Using encrypted connections where possible is encouraged e.g. https://twitter.com or https://mail.google.com