EFF, Others Launch New Free Security Certificate Authority To 'Dramatically Increase Encrypted Internet Traffic'

from the very-cool dept

The EFF and Mozilla along with some others, have teamed up to announce “Let’s Encrypt” which is a new, free, certificate authority that is hoping to dramatically increase encrypted internet traffic when it launches next summer. The effort is being overseen by the Internet Security Research Group, which is the non-profit coalition of folks contributing to this effort. Not only is the effort going to offer free certificates, but also make it much easier to enable encryption.

We’ve argued for a long time about the importance of increasing encryption online, so it’s great to see this effort.

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Companies: cisco, eff, internet security research group, mozilla

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Comments on “EFF, Others Launch New Free Security Certificate Authority To 'Dramatically Increase Encrypted Internet Traffic'”

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30 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Worrying example

Their How It Works page says:

enabling HTTPS for your site will be as easy as installing a small piece of certificate management software on the server:
$ sudo apt-get install lets-encrypt
$ lets-encrypt example.com
That’s all there is to it! https://example.com is immediately live.

If that second command is really going to work without sudo or any other authentication, that’s a bit worrying. A random unprivileged user shouldn’t be able to reconfigure the server.
The general idea looks nice, and I hope it will work for email too. But Mozilla should really implement DANE support as soon as possible, to ensure this CA is only a temporary solution (for old browsers).

Anonymous Coward says:

You don’t need a certificate to encrypt a connection the certificate is merely to prove that someone is who they say they are. So I don’t see how a certificate authority makes it ‘easier’ to enable encryption.

With regard to offering free certificates do they do background checks on those requesting a certificate or can anyone just get one?

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Browsers and Certificate Authorities

Internet Browsers (FireFox, Chrome, Safari) and aspiring Internet Browsers (IE) have a list of certificates they trust.

The organizations that create browsers and wannabe browsers decide for themselves which root certificates they trust. Or more importantly which Certificate Authorities (CAs) they trust.

The requirements to get a certificate depend on the policies of the CA.

Of course, to get included in the trusted roots of the major browsers, and browser wannabe, a CA has to jump through all of the hoops that each organization has for inclusion in its browser. It’s way more complex than this, but simply, these requirements ensure that browsers only trust certificates issued by CA’s that you would want to trust.

In general, a certificate merely indicates that it really is for the domain name you typed into the address bar. For example, the certificate from Amazon.com ensures that (as long as you trust the root CA who signed it) this certificate really is from Amazon.com. The CA who signed it is certifying that the certificate wasn’t just handed out willy nilly to just anyone off the street who wanted a certificate that says “Amazon.com”.

Some CA’s offer various levels of assurance of the identity of who the certificate is issued to. But at the most basic level, it is ensuring that the server that answered your SSL is one that holds the certificate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Browsers and Certificate Authorities

I understand what it does but I think one of the functions of having a CA is partly to ensure that only entities who went through a greater degree of scrutiny in identifying themselves get certified. I think this makes it easier for anyone to get a cert and trick people into thinking they are more trustworthy than they really are.

Joel Coehoorn says:

Re: Re:

You DO need a certificate to encrypt a connection. While there are encryption schemes that don’t use certs, if you want a web browser to use SSL, certs are where it’s at.

What you don’t need is a signed certificate, or a certificate authority. But without a system of trust enabled by valid certificate authorities, encryption itself isn’t much. As it’s been said, “Encryption guarantees a conversion is private, but you could be having a private conversation with Satan”. CA’s enable you to have confidence that the person on the other end of the line is who they say they are… at least, that’s what they’re supposed to do.

DannyB (profile) says:

MITM attacks

MITM = Man In The Middle (or monkey in the middle)

Follow my chain of thinking here.

Maybe the web needs a protocol that is like Http, but encrypted, without attempting to prove the identity of the other end by using certificates.

This would let every web site use encryption without cost or jumping through any hoops.

But you wouldn’t know for sure that you are really talking to the web site that you think you are talking to. For most web surfing this is okay. But when you’re talking to your Bank, or to Amazon.com for example, you really do want to be sure who the other end is that you are talking to.

The weakness of this is that anyone, especially TLAs could easily execute a MITM attack. You think you’re talking to Facebook, and your traffic really is encrypted, but you are really talking to a different server that in turn makes your requests to the real Facebook, and relays the replies from it.

Without certificates to prove identity, mere encryption gives a pretty weak assurance of privacy, and in fact creates an illusion of strong privacy.

But TLAs need only compromise one of the hundreds of Certificate Authorities. All they need is for some CA to give the TLA a signing certificate for, say, Google. Then they can do the MITM attack.

Back in the day when there were only about four CAs (certificate authorities), it was easy to trust them. Or at least easier. Today with hundreds, do you really trust every CA?

If you browse to Google, and the certificate is a genuine Google.com certificate, but it was issued by the certificate authority “Honest Achmed’s Trusty Certificates of Tehran Iran”, then what do you think? Do you really think Google bought it’s certificate from Honest Achmed’s?

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: MITM attacks

I think we need a decentralized way of dealing with it. Maybe have a certificate be issued by one of those trusted peers but recognized by others so when your browser checks for the authenticity you have a group confirmation that it is valid. Achmed would bear little to no weight if all the main CAs regularly disagree with him. I’m not sure if it’s feasible or even if it should be done this way but we should work into it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We already have a free certificate authority

“they’re not trusted by any browser. I can’t imagine this will be either.”

Except that Mozilla has 2 board members, which probably means some level of support will be happening in Firefox.

https://letsencrypt.org/about/

ISRG Board of Directors

ISRG is overseen by individuals from a variety of backgrounds. Our current board members are:

Josh Aas (Mozilla) — ISRG Executive Director
Stephen Ludin (Akamai)
Dave Ward (Cisco)
J. Alex Halderman (University of Michigan)
Andreas Gal (Mozilla)
Jennifer Granick (Stanford Law School)
Alex Polvi (CoreOS)
Peter Eckersley (EFF) — Observer

Violated (profile) says:

This is something one of my own sites need when your common certificate validation services seem a bit expensive where an annual subscription seems criminal.

I can understand the EFF’s point when many site owners when stuck between a large annual fee and to go cost free no encryption can choose the latter.

Even if the EFF do charge a one off fee then any site owners would be very happy indeed. It is only a bitch we need to wait until the summer but I am all ears.

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