Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Perimeter

6/20/2011
10:43 PM
Taher Elgamal
Taher Elgamal
Commentary
50%
50%

Leaps Of Faith

Mobile is more secure than the browser realm because most mobile transactions are conducted through applications, not the browser

Certificates and SSL use a proven, time-honored cryptographic protocol that most of us benefit from every day. Still, phishing attacks do occur; bad guys continue to use fake forms that trick users into providing sensitive information. The protocols are by no means responsible for these events, but they do get blamed, largely because an act of trust was committed through the browser, and certificates and SSL are directly involved in determining who the browser trusts.

So who should the browser trust?

This is a question we asked about 15 years ago when we were developing SSL, and it’s still relevant. Just as it was back then, the browser today is the client through which the world accesses websites, and no one wants to restrict access to sites, especially trusted ones.

So what we are facing is a compromise between security and functionality, one that allows users to trust whomever they wish, but delivers warnings in a pop-up window if the certificate they’re about to accept comes from an unknown source. If they wish to go ahead and trust it, then they may proceed -- and the fact is that nearly everyone ignores the pop-up warning and clicks through, behaving as if they trust most sites they approach.

It’s this assumption of trust, not the SSL protocol, that is responsible for the success of phishing attacks and identity theft. In fact, when SSL is used in the back-end and in server-to-server connections, it is literally not possible to connect to the wrong place. Because this use of SSL relies on mutual authentication, one simply does not see the kinds of security issues that crop up when individual users in charge of the decision to trust or not trust a certificate.

Similarly -- and this might come as a surprise -- from a security standpoint, the mobile realm is far more secure than the browser realm, because most mobile transactions are conducted through applications, not browsers. With mobile apps, for instance, the certificates are already built in -- they don’t allow the user to trust any random site and click “Yes” to a pop-up window that should genuinely give them pause. They don’t force the user to wonder who the browser should trust, because it’s not a browser.

The pop-up “warning” window that makes certificate trust a user option was, frankly, the wrong decision. We didn’t spend enough time thinking about how to give the browser an absolutely trusted certificate, and how to eliminate the need for the user to take frequent leaps of faith with random sites.

Will those who blame certificates and SSL for phishing attacks be silenced when every transaction has its own dedicated application, and the browser is relegated to a “stand-by” app for when no dedicated app is available? I believe many of us are already previewing this phishing-free future as we access the Web via smartphones, and rely more and more on a wide range of applications that have come of age since the debut of the app stores some years back.

Recognized in the industry as the "inventor of SSL," Dr. Taher Elgamal led the SSL efforts at Netscape. He also wrote the SSL patent and promoted SSL as the Internet security standard within standard committees and the industry. Dr. Elgamal invented several industry and government standards in data security and digital signatures area, including the DSS government standard for digital signatures. In addition to serving on numerous corporate advisory boards, Dr. Elgamal is the Chief Security Officer at Axway, a global provider of multi-enterprise solutions and infrastructure. He holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University. View more of his blog posts here.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Mobile Banking Malware Up 50% in First Half of 2019
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/17/2020
Exploits Released for As-Yet Unpatched Critical Citrix Flaw
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/13/2020
Microsoft to Officially End Support for Windows 7, Server 2008
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/13/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-7227
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
Westermo MRD-315 1.7.3 and 1.7.4 devices have an information disclosure vulnerability that allows an authenticated remote attacker to retrieve the source code of different functions of the web application via requests that lack certain mandatory parameters. This affects ifaces-diag.asp, system.asp, ...
CVE-2019-15625
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A memory usage vulnerability exists in Trend Micro Password Manager 3.8 that could allow an attacker with access and permissions to the victim's memory processes to extract sensitive information.
CVE-2019-19696
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A RootCA vulnerability found in Trend Micro Password Manager for Windows and macOS exists where the localhost.key of RootCA.crt might be improperly accessed by an unauthorized party and could be used to create malicious self-signed SSL certificates, allowing an attacker to misdirect a user to phishi...
CVE-2019-19697
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
An arbitrary code execution vulnerability exists in the Trend Micro Security 2019 (v15) consumer family of products which could allow an attacker to gain elevated privileges and tamper with protected services by disabling or otherwise preventing them to start. An attacker must already have administr...
CVE-2019-20357
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A Persistent Arbitrary Code Execution vulnerability exists in the Trend Micro Security 2020 (v160 and 2019 (v15) consumer familiy of products which could potentially allow an attacker the ability to create a malicious program to escalate privileges and attain persistence on a vulnerable system.