Mozilla Asks if Other CAs are Safe

Monday, September 12, 2011 @ 02:09 PM gHale

Following the high-profile hack of digital certificate provider DigiNotar, the makers of the Firefox browser want other issuers to take a hard look at their internal security and to report back in a week.

In emails sent out to digital certificate authorities Thursday, Mozilla Certificate Authority (CA) Certificates Module owner Kathleen Wilson asked CAs such as Symantec and Go Daddy to audit their systems for any possible compromise, confirm that nobody can issue a digital certificate without two-factor authentication, and tighten practices with any third parties that might be able to issue digital certificates using the CA’s root key.

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Mozilla is giving CAs until Sept. 16 to respond to the email, but the browser maker is not saying what will happen if any of its 54 CAs ignore the request.

Mozilla is also telling the CAs to put “automatic blocks in place for high-profile domain names (including those targeted in the DigiNotar and Comodo attacks this year),” Wilson wrote in the email, posted to a Mozilla security discussion forum.

By asking for a manual verification, Mozilla is trying to make it harder for anyone to issue a digital certificate for or, two domains targeted in the DigiNotar hack. Whoever pulled off that attack helped someone execute a massive man-in-the-middle attack that may have compromised security for as many as 300,000 Iranian Internet users.

Companies such as DigiNotar issue digital certificates that tell browsers and other Internet programs the servers they are dealing with are legitimate — the real website, and not some phishing site. If hackers can steal digital certificates and somehow also mess with their victim’s network to redirect to fake sites, the attackers can create virtually undetectable phishing attacks.

In the case of the DigiNotar hack, security experts believe this was a move to break into Gmail accounts.

This week, the hacker who earlier in the year broke into Comodo, another CA, took credit for the DigiNotar hack and said he’d compromised four other CAs, including GlobalSign. GlobalSign immediately stopped issuing digital certificates and began a security audit.

Although the Comodo and DigiNotar hacks have shone light on the CA industry and its security practices, it is still too easy to obtain a digital certificate without any human checking to see if it is a legitimate request, said Comodo Chief Executive Melih Abdulhayoglu. Comodo has revamped its security processes since the March attack, but other certificate authorities still have work to do, he said.

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