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 2.3.0.0.48, 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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Filed Under: browser proxy, encryption, https, man in the middle, security, xpress browser
Companies: nokia


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  1. icon
    aldestrawk (profile), 12 Jan 2013 @ 2:18pm

    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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