GoDaddy Revokes Lavabit's Security Certificate After Reading About How The Feds Got It

from the post-facto dept

By now the details of the shutdown of secure email provider Lavabit are fairly well known. Seeking to spy on Ed Snowden's communications, the feds demanded Lavabit give them access to Snowden's account. After some back and forth, they further demanded the site's private SSL keys. Lavabit's Ladar Levison first provided it to them printed out in illegible 4 point type, and when the court found that unacceptable, he shut down the entire service while simultaneously handing over the key. Here's an interesting side note to all of that, dug up by Kashmir Hill over at Forbes: After the details of what happened were unsealed by the court a week ago, GoDaddy revoked the security certificate it had provided for Lavabit, saying that there's now proof Levison provided them to a third party, violating the policy on a secure cert:
“[W]e're compelled by industry policies to revoke certs when we become aware that the private key has been communicated to a 3rd-party and thus could be used by that party to intercept and decrypt communications,” says GoDaddy spokesperson Elizabeth L. Driscoll, in response to an inquiry about Lavabit's keys being revoked.
Of course, since the service is already shut down, this move has no direct impact on anything, but makes a fairly strong symbolic statement. Many have been wondering, if the feds are ordering Lavabit to hand over its SSL keys, it's quite likely the same demand has been made of many other companies as well, most of which likely complied. So, this raises the question of whether or not certificate authorities are going to start looking for the possibility of other compromised certs and revoking them....

Separately, as Hill notes, this could also aid Levison in his legal case, as he can now legitimately argue another way in which being forced to turn over the keys could create an unreasonable burden on his business by having the keys revoked.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 7:53am

    A lot of people don't understand the point of CAs

    The entire point of a certificate authority is to verify the owner of the SSL certificate.

    There are different classes of certification, and the highest class comes with all sorts of guarantees that the person using the SSL certificate is the one that is supposed to.

    A proper CA must ensure that if an SSL cert falls into the wrong hands, that it be promptly revoked, as they can no longer guarantee the owner of the cert is the sole person that they have verified.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 7:56am

    GoDaddy supported SOPA & PIPA and now they are trying to clean their name with this PR move.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 8:07am

      Re:

      If they continue to maintain "cleaning their name" then I don't have a problem with them.

       

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 9:52am

      Re:

      GoDaddy supported SOPA & PIPA and now they are trying to clean their name with this PR move.


      FWIW, nearly every member of senior management at GoDaddy has been replaced since the SOPA/PIPA debacle.

       

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      btrussell (profile), Oct 12th, 2013 @ 3:03am

      Re:

      Or are they soliciting the NSA? Making them aware of the power they have as well, asking to be a player in this.

       

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 8:02am

    Possible out

    If another provider is caught in the same position, they could simply inform the CA that they have violated the agreement without telling them how (and violating the Security Letter or whatever they've been presented with.)

     

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      elemecca (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 9:46am

      Re: Possible out

      The certificate holder doesn't even have to say they're in breach of contract. They just need to push a CRL entry with reasonCode=keyCompromise. Most CAs are more than happy to revoke keys that have been compromised; especially since they'll often get to charge the customer to re-issue them.

       

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      FamilyManFirst (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 12:28pm

      Re: Possible out

      I wonder how a judge would react if, in court (a la the Lavabit hearings), the judge ordered that the company turn over their cert and the company rep responded that, sure, they'd do so, but that they were then contractually bound to notify the CA that the cert had been compromised, which would lead to the revocation of the cert? Can a judge order a company to willfully violate a contract like this?

       

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        Bergman (profile), Oct 12th, 2013 @ 1:39am

        Re: Re: Possible out

        Yes. Which is why the smart company pushes the keyCompromise code as soon as the government demands their keys. In the current rubber stamp environment, the government WILL get the keys. But they won't do a bit of good if they're already invalid.

         

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 8:18am

    it should also stop the Feds from going after any site/service that requires a secure certificate. how can businesses that require them be able to conduct their business when that cert is handed over? how can any business even request a cert when it is going to be put into the position of betraying customers and committing fraud by saying it's site/service is secure when it isn't? is it supposed to put a footnote on it's contracts, stating that everything is as advertised, as long as and until, the feds go in and completely fuck everything up? would the Feds be happy with that sort of condition? i doubt not!!!

     

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      identicon
      Bengie, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 9:19am

      Re:

      Not only commit fraud, but also violating a civil contract with the cert authority.

       

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      USLaw.com (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 10:31am

      Footnotes

      is it supposed to put a footnote on it's contracts, stating that everything is as advertised, as long as and until, the feds go in and completely fuck everything up? would the Feds be happy with that sort of condition?
      That's how some health insurance exchanges are treating the issue of government breaches of privacy: "only exception to this [privacy] policy is that we may share information provided in your application with the appropriate authorities for law enforcement and audit activities.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 8:21am

    Going to the source

    Instead of speculating, let's see what the rules should be.

    The rules for Mozilla (Firefox) are at https://www.mozilla.org/projects/security/certs/policy/. Following the links, you can find things like:

    "If the CA or any of its designated RAs become aware that a Subscriber’s Private Key has been communicated to an unauthorized person or an organization not affiliated with the Subscriber, then the CA shall revoke all certificates that include the Public Key corresponding to the communicated Private Key."

    The other browsers should have similar requirements.

    If a CA does not want to be removed from the browsers' root trust stores, they have to revoke any certificate where the private key has been revealed to anyone else. There is no "law enforcement" exception.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 8:59am

      Re: Going to the source

      Yeah, what GoDaddy did here was correct. You just have to wonder how many companies have compromised private keys they know about but is gagged and bound by court order not to inform the authority about?

      What is creating a glaring hole here, is that courts can order a key to be handed over at all. The system cannot keep any credibility as soon as a key is compromised. I am not sure how NSA argues the system can work under these conditions? Guess it is the same as their coded backdoors: They are far outside the normal laws and lack the integrity to make the oversight aware of the consequences of their endevours!

       

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      jackn, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 9:44am

      Re: Going to the source

      'browsers' are external to this issue.

       

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        elemecca (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 9:50am

        Re: Re: Going to the source

        The browser vendors are relevant here because they exert strong market pressure on the CAs in their root store to have reasonable revocation policies. Since the majority of their customers are using their certificates to operate HTTPS web sites even one major browser removing their root certificate is a business-ending event for a CA.

         

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 11:06am

        Re: Re: Going to the source

        Browsers are very much relevant to this issue. These will push on CA issuers to make sure their product is trustworthy. That it's purpose to the user through the browser. This is a partial list of those CAs in my browser.

        https://i.imgur.com/DqCrxm3.png

        That's hardly an external issue when you are depending on them being free of malware and security issues. Having that trust lost to the public very much has results.

        http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110830/13243615741/evidence-suggests-diginotar-who-issued -fraudulent-google-certificate-was-hacked-years-ago.shtml#comments

         

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          identicon
          jackn, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 11:26am

          Re: Re: Re: Going to the source

          I stand by my original assertion, but its complicated.

          I guess, given public ignorance, browsers matter.

          Hows that?

           

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            identicon
            Brazenly Anonymous, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 2:04pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Going to the source

            Users contract with browsers to establish the chain of trust for secure websites. As such, they are part of the chain and very much a part of the issue. Occasionally users will modify the trust pool or create their own, but any part of the chain of trust can be bypassed this way, not just browsers.

             

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 9:07am

    So when do we start seeing the revocation of AT&T, Google, Yahoo!, and other major telecoms and email providers?

    How exactly will GoDaddy find out about these compromised CAs? I mean Lavabit is only the latest in a whole series of email providers who have been compromised, all of whom you can bet have been given gag orders in one form or another.

    And how about the rest of the CA issuers? Are they going to follow suit too?

    The more that comes out about this NSA business the nastier it looks.

     

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    Angel (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 9:11am

    It's indeed worrying, I mean with everything that has recently come out, how can you trust any websites SSL connection?

     

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    Peter (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 9:36am

    Could Godaddy demand sworn statements from other service providers and revoke their keys if they can not rule out that their keys have been handed over to a third party?
    Presumably, even secret court orders can not force service providers to commit perjury?

     

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      identicon
      jackn, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 9:45am

      Re:

      I don't think other ISP are using godaddy as a CA.

       

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      Sunhawk (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 11:15am

      Re:

      Could Godaddy demand sworn statements from other service providers and revoke their keys if they can not rule out that their keys have been handed over to a third party?

      Presumably, even secret court orders can not force service providers to commit perjury?


      Well now... This could be quite interesting...

      In regards to the article, GoDaddy did the correct thing (besides, it's not like Lavabit is going to be using that cert any more). In addition, this could perhaps assist future businesses hit with a similar order (those that wish to resist it, that is). I'm not entirely sure to the extent a federal agency can force a business to act as a baffle (effectively that's what using a business' cert is; not unlike forcing a store to employ an undercover cop as a cashier), but "this will cause my business to be unable to function" surely should strengthen a defense.

       

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    identicon
    Me, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 9:50am

    Good for GoDaddy. Sure, it's PR in a sense, but it's better than bending over and never uttering a peep about the reaming you're getting.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 10:14am

      Re:

      Not just PR. As pointed out above, if GoDaddy doesn't revoke a compromised certificate, it can find itself left off the list of trusted CAs in major browsers. So they have more than just a PR stake in this.

       

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    Shon Gale (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 10:08am

    Good for GoDaddy!

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 11:34am

    I understand the revocation is more about GoDaddy's maintenance of our trust in it as a CA than about invalidating Lavabit's certificate for end users. But hands up; who here actually has their browser configured to check for certificate revocation?

    It doesn't matter in this case since Lavabit won't be using their cert anymore. I'm just wondering if anyone really checks for revocation for the sites they visit. I tried enabling CRL checking in Chrome on a reasonably fast computer, and it made visiting HTTPS URLs unbearably slow, with many sites timing out.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 1:17pm

      Re:

      Nowadays you are supposed to use OCSP instead of downloading a CRL. At least Firefox uses OSCP by default.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2013 @ 12:50pm

    If they're going to do it they should be doing it by actively seeking out certs in use that may be compromised.

    Sadly a bunch of morons will look at this action and think GoDaddy is going to bat for them. Anyone with an elementary understanding of what happened will know just how much this reeks of complete bullshit.

    GoDaddy has accomplished absolutely nothing. It's a damn shame because they have the power to do so much in this area.

     

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    Postulator (profile), Oct 10th, 2013 @ 8:49pm

    The negative answer solution

    There is a very easy solution to government-compromised certificates. The certificate authority sends an email once a month (more or less time depending on the importance of the certificate holder - so Google (which I understand complicates things by issuing its own certificates) may be once a week). That email asks the certificate holder's chief executive to:

    "Confirm that your certificate remains secure, and to your knowledge your private key has not been provided to or accessed by any third party".

    A separate annual email would ask the chief executive to:

    "Confirm that all certificates issued to you, including those that have now expired, remain secure, and confirm that to your knowledge no private key issued to you has been provided to or accessed by any third party".

    These questions would exclude any certificates that are known to have been leaked, but there would need to be an extra question about what arrangements have been made to protect any data that is insecure because of lost certificates.

    The way these questions are phrased, chief executives could indicate by refusing to answer them that they have been forced to hand over private keys. They don't need to disclose anything that is prevented by super-secret "we cut off your balls" court orders.

     

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