Nokia Running A Man In The Middle Attack To Decrypt All Your Encrypted Traffic, But Promises Not To Peek

from the not-too-comforting dept

This is a bit crazy. After a security researcher pointed out that Nokia’s Xpress Browser is basically running a giant man in the middle attack on any encrypted HTTPS data you transmit, the company played the whole situation down by saying, effectively, sure, that’s what we do, but it’s not like we look at anything. This is, to put it mildly, not comforting. Just the fact that they’re running a man in the middle attack in the first place is immensely concerning. The reason they do it is that this is a proxy browser, similar to Opera, that tries to speed up browsing by proxying a lot of the content — meaning that all of your surfing goes through their servers. In some cases, this can be much faster for mobile browsing. But, the right way to do such a thing is to only do the proxying on unencrypted traffic. With encrypted traffic, you’re just asking for trouble.

After sensing the backlash, Nokia pushed out an update of the browser that appears to remove the man-in-the-middle attack, even as it had tried to claim there was nothing wrong in the first place. However, the original researcher who discovered this, Gaurang K Pandya, updated his post to note that it’s not all good news.

Just upgraded my Nokia browser, the version now is, and as expected there is a change in HTTPS behaviour. There is a good news and a bad news. The good news is with this browser, they are no more doing Man-In-The-Middle attack on HTTPS traffic, which was originally the issue, and the bad news is the traffic is still flowing through their servers. This time they are tunneling HTTPS traffic over HTTP connection to their server

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Companies: nokia

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Comments on “Nokia Running A Man In The Middle Attack To Decrypt All Your Encrypted Traffic, But Promises Not To Peek”

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traffikator says:

Re: Really??

Then explain why the need for security of any browser? What a foolish, ignorant comment to make! I decide to connect to my company network to complete my Accounting work for payroll. How about making a transaction on my online account…you know I am only getting upset by the minute I quit. In your opinion, everything should be open if you are not doing anything wrong!

Trails (profile) says:


Not to mention potential privacy laws which require such things as end-to-end encryption and audit logging, e.g. HIPAA and HITECH, as well as industry standards such as PCI.

HTTPS is supposed to be end-to-end, but they basically put out a browser with not just known vulnerability, but a by-design vulnerability and foisted it on unsuspecting customers, giving them (the customers) a nice helping of potential liability.

I smell class action incoming.

aldestrawk says:


The PCI DSS covers business practices. Conforming business must provide a method to transmit card data securely. If the client decides to defeat that security by going through a proxy that does not tunnel the HTTPS connection then it is not the fault of the business and does not violate the PCI standard. Maybe Nokia isn’t explaining well to it’s clients that using their phones essentially breaks the confidentiality of all information passed through an HTTPS connection but NOKIA isn’t the processor of the card transaction and so doesn’t come under the PCI DSS standard. They also claim not to look at or store this information so a business could still claim to be compliant even if they encourage transactions over a NOKIA phone.

The same arguments work for HIPAA. NOKIA is not a health care provider and although they may have potential access, they do not eavesdrop or store the data. A close analogy would be talking to your doctor over the same phone in a voice conversation. Although NOKIA, ATT, or whatever telecom, has potential access to this conversation, they supposedly don’t listen in or record such things without a warrant with the small exception of the NSA’s nationwide warrantless eavesdropping program which will soon record everything.

I think we have reached a point though where the security practices of communication intermediaries need to be taken into account in such standards as HIPAA and PCI DSS.

Trails (profile) says:


Your points about PCI are well taken.

HIPAA is a bit more complex since the user could very well be the doctor or other practitioner, hence a “covered entity”.

Since Nokia decrypts https, and quite plausibly does not do this in a compliant data facility, this could constitute a violation. Since it is unlikely a covered entity user of Nokia phone has the proper contracts in place, e.g. Business Associate Agreement, the liability is probably the user’s rather than Nokia’s in this case, hence “giving them (the customers) a nice helping of potential liability.”

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just running a Proxy server does not automatically mean that a company is decrypting your traffic.

Mike didn’t mention the main reasons that companies provide this proxy browsing for mobile devices, so I’ll list the top three:

– When your phone traffic goes through a proxy, the proxy detects the kind of phone you have, and its resolution. It then scales down images so that a bunch of unviewable data isn’t transmitted unnecessarily. Also, heavy content like flash can be edited out if the device can’t display it. This makes the browsing experience faster, without sacrificing any quality. Network operators also like the lighter traffic.

– Some proxies can detect when your browser cannot display some content, and can reproduce the content in a way you CAN see it. Like taking a streaming video and turning it into a series of JPGs. This can add to the capabilities of your limited phone.

– going to one proxy server is supposedly easier to manage for your phone than going to dozens of different TCP/IP connections to all the different servers and ad servers that make up a web page.

If you remove the spying aspect…this can be a win win for network operators AND customers.

meddle (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s not illegal if they let people know what they are doing. They should give people the option to opt out, but we always have the option of buying services somewhere else. And some people may even like the service. It does speed things up. We should stop looking to the gub’ment to protect us from everything and vote with our wallets.

aldestrawk says:

soon moot?

So, it seems the rationale for phone based browsers always going through a specialized proxy is that the proxy will do the compression and rendering that would tax the limited processor(s) on the phone. The user sees a quicker response time. The rationale for becoming a MITM during an HTTPS session is, again, to allow Nokia servers to the rendering which can only be done for an unencrypted web page and compression which is only effective on unencrypted data. Also, the browser will be smaller if it doesn’t have to distinguish HTTPS from HTTP traffic and then do all that rendering and compression itself.

It would have been nice if Nokia, and other smart phone makers, had been more upfront and explicitly pointed out the compromising effect on HTTPS of how they use their proxy servers. I can’t say I’m surprised with their attitude of we don’t actually eavesdrop so it’s all OK. What is a little surprising is how they “fixed” this, supposedly in response to Pandya’s blog. They now tunnel the HTTPS connection through an HTTP connection to the proxy. One does not need to use a proxy at all in this case though. Perhaps it was easier and quicker for them to still funnel all traffic to their proxy servers. I don’t understand why Pandya notes that this is better but still “bad news” as the HTTPS traffic in this situation provides confidentiality.

This whole issue of compromising the confidentiality of HTTPS traffic should soon be moot as phones, smart phones in particular, incorporate more powerful processors. What is a bit scary is if law enforcement decides that such proxies should be required solely as an eavesdropping point for their purposes. I would be surprised, for any Nokia proxies in the U.S., if law enforcement didn’t claim that CALEA required Nokia to store and allow access to compromised HTTPS traffic when a warrant or subpoena was served.

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