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Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2013 20:46:31 +0100
From: "Alexander E. Patrakov" <>
To: General PulseAudio Discussion <>
Subject: Re: [pulseaudio-discuss] Vulnerability in Webkit-GTK and PulseAudio
 volume handling

2013/10/11 Xabier Rodríguez Calvar <>:
> For Colin to know, before touching anything in WebKitGtk+ the behavior
> was that the volume was ramping up to 100% with every website regardless
> their volume control.
> I met Slomo and Lennart at GUADEC and we thought that the best was
> letting the sink, pulsesink in this case, set the volume and we would
> just get that for the slider, regardless the volume model applied. This
> was supposed to be a good compromise for the different situations (using
> PA with or without flat volumes, using another sink) as volume wouldn't
> ramp up to 100% always.
> There are some other restrictions we have to observe, though:
>      1. We want to be agnostic of the GStreamer sink used and of course,
>         to the volume model used by pulse, because we don't know it.
>      2. We want to allow audio passthrough when possible.
>      3. We want to be coherent with the rest of GNOME apps, and the
>         volume model they are using.
>      4. We have to comply with the HTML5 W3C standard that says that
>         volume will be 100% by default, though user agents can decide to
>         restore former volume (perfect if we let pulse decide it).
> We would easily add a GStreamer volume element and solve what Alexander
> says, buy we would be breaking 2 and 3 rules and to fulfill 3 and 4, I
> actually tested that with the proposed fix, the volume could still ramp
> up to 100% because in our opinion, it is up to the web developer to
> sanitize their volume management or up to the user to change the volume
> model.
> Best regards.

As promised, I have raised this issue at the Audio Miniconf in
Edinburgh. Unfortunately, Xabier was not at that miniconf, so I cannot
treat the resulting discussion as including opinions from both sides
and thus, personally, I treat all results as invalid. Too bad, but
hopefully we can fix that tomorrow in a separate meeting.

I tired to summarize the stated opinions of PulseAudio developers on
paper and then asked each one whether he agrees to what is written. It
is worth noting that there is no 100% agreement even among PulseAudio
developers. Arun Raghavan told me that he needs to think more about
one of the points, and I think it is fair.

Given those factors, I do not request a CVE at this time, but will do
it later, either when there is an agreement about who fixes what, or
if the discussion with both sides does not occur at all.

So, below are the viewpoints that were stated. The first two points
were written on paper and each participant was asked about agreement
or disagreement. For each of the two points below, there is a
(non-100%) majority supporting it.

1. This is not an audio issue. It is a sandboxing issue in Webkit-GTK.

(that's the statement that Arun needs to think about a bit more, but
which, I think, captures the most essential component of the problem,
even without flat volumes, due to disobeying sliders in pavucontrol if
a web app resets the volume using a periodic timer)

2. There is nothing to fix in PulseAudio code.

(that's the statement that David Henningsson disagrees with (while
stating that it is his personal opinion and non the opinion of
Canonical), he wants to disable flat volumes by default, and Tanu
Kaskinen is willing to review a documentation-only patch if I create

I did not try to ask about agreement or disagreement with the points
below, so please treat them as "just notes".

3. There were attempts to say "is this an issue at all?" / "If a web
page does this, I will not go there anymore, problem solved", but it
looks like this is a matter of opinion. This may or may not be a valid
solution according to the EU law (or whatever law that causes Android
to display a popup warning if a user goes over 70% volume). There was
also a suggestion to display a warning if the volume of an analog
output goes over 70%, or to display a "do you want to allow this?"
popup when a web application tries to control the volume.

4. Lennart Poettering continued to state the importance of seamless
integration of web applications into the desktop environment. That's
actually where the four requirements in the quote above come from,
however, they do conflict with the sandboxing requirements, and nobody
so far knows a good solution to both kinds of requirements.

5. An analogy was made with a page that displays an unwanted and
unclosable popup in a web browser or tries to eat 100% of the CPU with
javascript. We already have popup blockers and a warning about
misbehaving javascript, so why not try to detect unsolicited volume

6. Three volume sliders (in-browser, stream volume and master volume)
would be too many, it would be nice to avoid that even though Windows
does just that.

7. There is no way to notify javascript code about externally-made
volume changes. Such notifications are, however, essential for usable
desktop integration, so that the application correctly updates its
internal volume slider.

My own opinion is unchanged: this is a security issue that no single
party is fully responsible for, definitely a sandboxing bug in
Webkit-GTK + definitely a documentation bug in PulseAudio + maybe a
good idea to change the default volume mode, because this would have
moved this from a "security issue" to "just a bug".

If I have misrepresented the discussion, please reply to this e-mail
and correct me.

Alexander E. Patrakov

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