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.

Risk

8/13/2012
05:58 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

NIST: How To Prepare For And Respond To A Certificate Authority Breach

Guidelines could serve as basis for new FISMA rules

The federal government's National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued its first-ever guidelines for government agencies and private-sector businesses to protect themselves in the wake of the breach of their digital certificate authorities.

A wave of certificate authority (CA) breaches during the past year-and-a-half -- including the Flame malware's abuse of a Microsoft digital certificate -- has been a wake-up call for many organizations. The reality is that many organizations in both the public and private sector don't have a detailed accounting of their digital certificates, their CAs, or who within their organizations "own" those certs.

NIST's new "Preparing for and Responding to Certification Authority Compromise and Fraudulent Certificate Issuance" guidelines bulletin, which it co-authored with Venafi, was in direct response to concerns about how a CA breach could affect agencies and businesses. "The big thing now is that these attacks are taking place" on CAs, says Paul Turner, vice president of products and strategy at Venafi. "That's why we worked with NIST on this."

Turner says while he can't speak for NIST, the guidelines issued by the agency likely will be put on the path to becoming part of FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act) regulations. "Right now, this is effectively a guideline," he says. "Next is looking at including it as part of FISMA -- that's the most likely path."

[ Yet another CA is hacked, suspends issuing certificates -- and there likely will be more. See Certificate Authority Uncovers Old Breach. ]

Meantime, NIST recommends that organizations ensure their CA is "secure," whether it's an internal or external authority. That means security best practices and regular third-party audits. And if a CA suffers an "impersonation" attack or one of its Registration Authorities is compromised, it should have clear-cut emergency revocation response in place: "The CA must revoke the certificates and inform the organizations identified as subjects in the fraudulent certificates and all potential relying parties that might rely on those certificates. If a CA system compromise or signing key theft occurs, the CA’s certificate(s) must be revoked by any CAs that have issued certificates to it, all subjects that the compromised CA has issued certificates to must be notified that they will require new certificates, and all possible relying parties must be notified," according to the guidelines published by NIST.

Venafi's Turner says it's not easy to ensure that a CA breach is detected as quickly as possible. The massive breach of now-defunct CA DigiNotar serves as a cautionary tale for any agency or company. "The attack on DigiNotar focused on Iranian citizens, but there was also fallout for the Dutch government, which was the biggest user of DigiNotar [certificates]. The Dutch government had to get up and say, 'Don't trust these sites until we find all the certificates on the front-end and back-end that are relying on them,'" Turner says. "That's the big issue NIST is really focusing on here: You've got to make sure you can respond."

If the breach had been more widespread, affecting bigger CAs such as Entrust or VeriSign, then the damage would have been much more severe, he says. "Most organizations have not done a good job tracking their certificates and who owns them. Most organizations are not even close to prepared," he says.

Among NIST's recommendations: get a detailed inventory of your digital certs and corresponding CAs; have a backup option in place for replacing a certificate or acquiring a new one; and make sure you know the nature of a CA security incident when it occurs, such as whether it was a true breach of their systems or some sort of impersonation attack. The NIST bulletin is available here (PDF).

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Attackers Leave Stolen Credentials Searchable on Google
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/21/2021
How to Better Secure Your Microsoft 365 Environment
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/25/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: We need more votes, check the obituaries.
Current Issue
2020: The Year in Security
Download this Tech Digest for a look at the biggest security stories that - so far - have shaped a very strange and stressful year.
Flash Poll
Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprises
Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprises
COVID-19 has created a new IT paradigm in the enterprise -- and a new level of cybersecurity risk. This report offers a look at how enterprises are assessing and managing cyber-risk under the new normal.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-4815
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-27
IBM Cloud Pak for Security (CP4S) 1.4.0.0 could allow a remote user to obtain sensitive information from HTTP response headers that could be used in further attacks against the system.
CVE-2020-4816
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-27
IBM Cloud Pak for Security (CP4S) 1.4.0.0 could allow a remote attacker to obtain sensitive information, caused by the failure to properly enable HTTP Strict Transport Security. An attacker could exploit this vulnerability to obtain sensitive information using man in the middle techniques. IBM X-For...
CVE-2020-4820
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-27
IBM Cloud Pak for Security (CP4S) 1.4.0.0 is vulnerable to cross-site scripting. This vulnerability allows users to embed arbitrary JavaScript code in the Web UI thus altering the intended functionality potentially leading to credentials disclosure within a trusted session.
CVE-2020-4967
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-27
IBM Cloud Pak for Security (CP4S) 1.3.0.1 could disclose sensitive information through HTTP headers which could be used in further attacks against the system. IBM X-Force ID: 192425.
CVE-2020-36012
PUBLISHED: 2021-01-27
Stored XSS vulnerability in BDTASK Multi-Store Inventory Management System 1.0 allows a local admin to inject arbitrary code via the Customer Name Field.