Trustwave Admits It Issued A Certificate To Allow Company To Run Man-In-The-Middle Attacks

from the wow dept

We've pointed out for years that the whole structure of SSL certificate-based security is open to attack via man-in-the-middle attacks... if you can somehow get a certificate authority to grant you a fake certificate. Of course, the protection against that was supposed to be that a certificate authority wouldn't do that. But what if one did? Certificate authority Trustwave has admitted that it issued a certificate to a company that allowed it to issue "valid" certs for any server. Basically, it gave a company the ability to do any kind of man-in-the-middle attack it wanted on employees. Trustwave has admitted to all this after revoking the certificate. They insist that the structure was limited so that it could only be used internally on the network. But, while it was out there, it basically allowed this company to effectively spy on employee activities, allowing the company to do man-in-the-middle attacks, as employees logged into private ("encrypted") accounts from their own devices, and see what they were doing. Considering this certificate was issued for "loss prevention," it's not hard to guess how it was used.

Either way, it's pretty scary that Trustwave would think it was a reasonable move to allow this kind of activity, no matter how carefully the company believes it was set up. In a world where people have perfectly valid reasons for using private personal internet services from the workplace, they should be able to trust that those connections are secure. Thanks to Trustwave's deal with this (unnamed) company, that was not the case. On top of that, there's no telling if other certificate authorities are doing the same thing elsewhere, significantly compromising SSL security.

In the end, this is a significant reminder that certificate-based security systems have serious weaknesses, and that the certificate authorities might not always be trustworthy...

Filed Under: certificate authorities, man in the middle, privacy, secure certificates, security, ssl
Companies: trustwave


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  1. icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 8 Feb 2012 @ 10:37pm

    Re:

    You're joking, right? People designed the certificate system. Any good security system needs to take into account that people are fallible.

    Paraphrasing Churchill:
    Many forms of security have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that the certificate system is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that the certificate system is the worst form of security except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

    Seriously, though, there are some fundamental problems with the certificate system that are not directly human-based. One big issue is that once you trust a CA, you're stuck trusting them forever (in practical terms). Just because I trust Trustwave, or Comodo, or Verisign, now doesn't mean they'll still be trustworthy in 5 years - yet the system really doesn't deal well with revocation of an entire CA. And there are over 600 organizations which can sign certificates, including the government of China. This story isn't over yet. Just wait until a major application wipes out a notable CA's "trustbits" - all sorts of hell will break loose.

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