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03/24/2011

Notes on the Recent Comodo SSL RA Compromise

By now, a lot of people have heard about the recent ssl certificate registration authority compromise of a Comodo affiliate but if you have not heard, my understanding of the event is that a Comodo certificate reseller was breached.  The breach resulted in the issuance of 9 certificates from 7 different domains which obviously, were signed by Comodo as CA .  The common names for these certificates included some very high profile sites:  mail.google.com, login.skype.com, login.live.com, and login.yahoo.com to name a few.  More information on it can be gathered from a Microsoft Advisory as well as from a Comodo blog entryFirefox and Chrome have also issued advisories—there has been nothing yet from Apple.  These certificate have been revoked and were supposedly revoked within hours of their issuance.

Mike Wood at Sophos has a good write-up on the incident and includes things that users of Internet Explorer and Firefox can do to tighten security within their browsers because the configuration defaults in some versions of these browsers are not good enough.

What makes this so troubling of an event has been summed up well in this post by Johannes Ullrich from the SANS Technology Institute:  

"Probably even worse then the possible man in the middle attacks that may have happened is the simple fact that this fundamentally breaks the trust model of SSL."  

I will go one-step further in stating that this type of incident considerably lowers my trust in the Certificate Authorities.  SSL Certificate issuance was already a pretty shady business to begin with but now we've gotten to the point that we can't necessarily trust the product being sold.  This certainly isn't the first time that fraudulent certificates were issued by a Comodo reseller.  Should we consider any certificate signed by Comodo as potentially fraudulent now and perhaps color the address bar yellow if a Comodo-signed certificate is encountered?  I wonder what Comodo's and this reseller's PCI Cmpliance status will be.

Hopefully, this incident will see the death of domain-validated ssl certificate once-and-for-all.  Another thing I hope is that CAs will give up on this silly Extended Validation certificate nonsense and apply these stringent validation steps to all 'traditional' organization validated certificates, which is what they should have been doing all along.

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