Risk
11/8/2012
06:05 PM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Salvaging Digital Certificates

Following breaches at Diginotar, Comodo, and RSA, digital certificate technology has been deeply tarnished. Here are five ways to shine it up and make it work for your organization.

One year ago, Gmail users in Iran woke up to a chilling prospect: Their sensitive and supposedly secure communications on Google's email program may have been tapped by unknown parties. A phony digital certificate in Google's name was used to impersonate the site and let the culprits mount a "man in the middle" attack to intercept and decrypt email sent to Google's servers before passing the messages along to the intended recipients.

In the search for the source of the phony certificate, all eyes turned to DigiNotar, a certificate authority in Beverwijk, Netherlands. DigiNotar admitted that it had been the victim of a cyberattack a month earlier whereby the attackers generated hundreds of bogus certificates in the names of some of the Internet's most trusted brands, including Google, Yahoo, Skype and the anonymity network Tor. Use of the fraudulent certificates was concentrated among Iranian users, leading to speculation that the attack was linked to that country's intelligence services, which have been cracking down on political dissidents.

The DigiNotar attack was the worst security compromise at a certificate authority to date. But it was hardly the only such attack. It came just months after an attack on a business affiliate of Comodo, a New Jersey CA. In that incident, the attackers generated phony certificates also in the names of prominent online brands.

These successful attacks were earth shaking because digital certificates and the encryption keys they represent are the bedrock of Internet communications. They secure everything from VPN connections to protocols such as TLS (Transport Layer Security) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) that protect billions of Web sessions and online transactions daily. At the heart of this system is a global public key infrastructure network of some 300 CAs entrusted with issuing certificates to individuals and organizations.

Certificate authorities are gatekeepers. They verify the identities of individuals and organizations before issuing digital certificates that contain the public and private encryption keys used to secure online exchange of information.

At least that's how it's supposed to work. As the DigiNotar attack revealed, CAs aren't Fort Knox-style identity vaults but rather are businesses subject to their own security mishaps. In the last year, CAs have come under attack from sophisticated and possibly nation-backed hacking crews, exposing security lapses and poor internal controls.

The current system leaves security-conscious businesses in a pinch. More than ever, they need secure and reliable identity services to back up their growing online presences, but the system in place is more vulnerable than ever.

What's to be done? Many experts say certificate technology still has a future and that security-conscious organizations can protect themselves by understanding the gaps in the system and taking common-sense steps to avoid them.

chart: CA compromises come in many flavors

Previous
1 of 4
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Flash Poll
Current Issue
Cartoon
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2013-6306
Published: 2014-08-22
Unspecified vulnerability on IBM Power 7 Systems 740 before 740.70 01Ax740_121, 760 before 760.40 Ax760_078, and 770 before 770.30 01Ax770_062 allows local users to gain Service Processor privileges via unknown vectors.

CVE-2014-0232
Published: 2014-08-22
Multiple cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities in framework/common/webcommon/includes/messages.ftl in Apache OFBiz 11.04.01 before 11.04.05 and 12.04.01 before 12.04.04 allow remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via unspecified vectors, which are not properly handled in a (1)...

CVE-2014-3525
Published: 2014-08-22
Unspecified vulnerability in Apache Traffic Server 4.2.1.1 and 5.x before 5.0.1 has unknown impact and attack vectors, possibly related to health checks.

CVE-2014-3563
Published: 2014-08-22
Multiple unspecified vulnerabilities in Salt (aka SaltStack) before 2014.1.10 allow local users to have an unspecified impact via vectors related to temporary file creation in (1) seed.py, (2) salt-ssh, or (3) salt-cloud.

CVE-2014-3587
Published: 2014-08-22
Integer overflow in the cdf_read_property_info function in cdf.c in file through 5.19, as used in the Fileinfo component in PHP before 5.4.32 and 5.5.x before 5.5.16, allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (application crash) via a crafted CDF file. NOTE: this vulnerability exists bec...

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Three interviews on critical embedded systems and security, recorded at Black Hat 2014 in Las Vegas.