Are Apple, Google, Microsoft And Mozilla Helping Governments Carry Out Man-In-The-Middle Attacks?
from the and-what-can-they-do-about-it? dept
Back in September, we reported on the Chinese authorities using man-in-the-middle attacks to spy on citizens who carry out Google searches over encrypted connections. That’s done by using a fake security certificate to redirect traffic to a server where the traffic is decrypted, analyzed, and blocked if necessary. A new post on the Greatfire.org Web site points out that this approach can only work if the user’s computer trusts the certificate’s issuing authority, in this case the China Internet Network Information Center, and that it’s curious that browsers from the West do so quite so readily:
Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla among others, trust CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center) to protect your communications on their platforms by default, regardless of whether or not you are in China. CNNIC has implemented (and tried to mask) internet censorship, produced malware and has very bad security practices. Tech-savvy users in China have been protesting the inclusion of CNNIC as a trusted certificate authority for years. In January 2013, after Github was attacked in China, we publicly called for the the revocation of the trust certificate for CNNIC. In light of the recent spate of man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks in China, and in an effort to protect user privacy not just in China but everywhere, we again call for revocation of CNNIC Certificate Authority.
Although the logic of revoking CNNIC as a trusted certificate authority might seem inarguable, the consequences of doing so are likely to be serious. For example, the Chinese government might decide to ban the use of any browser that did not include CNNIC. That’s hard to police, but the threat alone would be enough to dissuade any software company from removing CNNIC’s certificate from its browser.
Perhaps the best solution is simply making users aware of the issue, and explaining how they can remove any certificate authority they have doubts about. And not just for China: these problems can arise in any country where a local trusted certificate authority is under the direct — or indirect — control of the government.