Risk
11/8/2012
06:05 PM
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
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading Tech Digest, Dec. 19, 2014
Software-defined networking can be a net plus for security. The key: Work with the network team to implement gradually, test as you go, and take the opportunity to overhaul your security strategy.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-9676
Published: 2015-02-27
The seg_write_packet function in libavformat/segment.c in ffmpeg 2.1.4 and earlier does not free the correct memory location, which allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service ("invalid memory handler") and possibly execute arbitrary code via a crafted video that triggers a use after free.

CVE-2014-9682
Published: 2015-02-27
The dns-sync module before 0.1.1 for node.js allows context-dependent attackers to execute arbitrary commands via shell metacharacters in the first argument to the resolve API function.

CVE-2015-0655
Published: 2015-02-27
Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in Unified Web Interaction Manager in Cisco Unified Web and E-Mail Interaction Manager allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via vectors related to a POST request, aka Bug ID CSCus74184.

CVE-2015-0884
Published: 2015-02-27
Unquoted Windows search path vulnerability in Toshiba Bluetooth Stack for Windows before 9.10.32(T) and Service Station before 2.2.14 allows local users to gain privileges via a Trojan horse application with a name composed of an initial substring of a path that contains a space character.

CVE-2015-0885
Published: 2015-02-27
checkpw 1.02 and earlier allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (infinite loop) via a -- (dash dash) in a username.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
How can security professionals better engage with their peers, both in person and online? In this Dark Reading Radio show, we will talk to leaders at some of the security industry’s professional organizations about how security pros can get more involved – with their colleagues in the same industry, with their peers in other industries, and with the IT security community as a whole.