Principles to know about WebRTC and how to disable it

Ruth C. | August 4, 2020

WebRTC is the standard component of browsers that permits real-time communications and peer-to-peer sharing. It powers the multimedia communication capabilities that otherwise would not be available directly from browsers. For example, consider online conferencing services that allow you to send and receive video and audio content. Without WebRTC, you would have to download a separate, external program to start a video or audio call. With this technology, you can do this internally, without exiting the browser. The peer-to-peer and seamless communication are the traits that the component is best known for. However, you should know its other features and potential risks.

What is WebRTC?

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is an open-source technology that lets browsers communicate without an intermediary. Such a peer-to-peer exchange of data is faster with less latency as there is no man-in-the-middle managing the communication. Most popular browsers have built-in support for WebRTC, and with your permission, websites establish connections without any external dependencies.

What does WebRTC mean to you? Seemingly complex under-the-hood processes make it possible to exchange live audio and video content with another person. While the capacity of this technology is multidimensional, it is usually the biggest player in peer-to-peer communications.

Before Google developed this technology, the direct communication between applications was highly difficult to achieve. In fact, there is a thorough protocol that peers need to follow. It involves a mutual agreement between peers to establish communication. Participating parties need to share their location. Also, the technology must bypass firewalls and NAT, and implement procedures for transmitting multimedia communications in real-time.

WebRTC makes all this possible, and a process called signaling is one of the key factors here. Signaling embodies the negotiation that happens between browsers before the real-time exchange can take place. Thanks to this procedure, in-browser communication gets the necessary information for setting up, managing, and ending conversations.

The problem with WebRTC

Despite its simplistic design, WebRTC has flaws that you need to know. We are bound to fear that the peer-to-peer communication of audio or video won’t be private. While this technology is modern, uses sophisticated encryption protocols, it has some darker pages in its history.

For one, leaks occur due to gaps that allow hackers to run JavaScript commands and obtain peers’ information. However, once browser vendors detect flaws in their implementation of WebRTC, they are likely to rapidly-produce a solution. In theory, leaks that expose user data can occur, and some vulnerabilities in this technology are inevitable. Consider this: WebRTC uses advanced techniques to bypass firewalls and collect metadata for establishing peer-to-peer exchanges. Hence, some users might opt to disable this component on their browsers to prevent any accidental leaks.

How to disable WebRTC on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari

After completing these instructions in your preferred browsers, bear in mind that you won’t be able to use WebRTC-based services.

On Chrome:

Manually disabling WebRTC on Chrome requires a tech-savvy understanding of the internal workings of this evolving technology. Therefore, it is best to put an additional plug-in to the task. For instance, WebRTC Leak Prevent is a Chrome add-on that will protect you from any unexpected leaks.

On Firefox:

  1. Type “about:config” in the URL field and press “OK.”

  1. A warning message might appear. Click on “Accept the Risk and Continue.”

  1. Most of the settings presented won’t be relevant to this case. To quickly find the one you need, use the default search feature. You can enable it by using pressing CTRL+F (on Windows) or CMD+F (on Mac).

  1. Type “media.peerconnection.enabled” into the search box.
  2. The type of setting should be “true” by default. Double click on it to change its value to “false.”

On Safari:

  1. Open “Safari” at the top left corner of the screen. Choose “Preferences” from the drop-down menu.

  1. Pick the “Advanced” tab and mark the box next to “Show Develop menu in menu bar.”
  2. Click on the “Develop” tab.
  3. There are a few options here. First, you can move your mouse to the “Experimental Features” section and pick the “Remove Legacy WebRTC API.”

  1. Another route you can take is to find the “WebRTC” section under the “Develop” tab. Make sure that the “Enable Legacy WebRTC API” option does not have a checkmark.

One more step left

People have different pressures and motivations that they need to deal with online. Luckily, a VPN can cover most of them, and make sure that unsettling data breaches won’t happen. Using a VPN means that the internet and its community won’t be able to extract your approximate location from your IP address.

Instead, this tool will give you a brand new IP address to work with. All of the data will travel in an encrypted form, meaning that no one will access it. This protection will help you become more independent from your ISP, marketers, government agencies, and hackers. None of them will have the privilege of keeping tabs on you or monetizing your data.

Ruth C.

Ruth C.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. Interested in cybercrime, online security, and privacy-related topics.



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