Feeds

Web who's who botches secure sockets layer

Boffin outs CIA, NASA, and Microsoft

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

New research has uncovered flaws in the encryption certificates used to protect the websites of hospitals, banks, and even top-secret government spy agencies, raising questions about whether they are complying with regulations requiring them to adequately safeguard their online visitors.

Rodney Thayer, a security researcher with Canola & Jones, spent a day and a half scoping out weak websites using nothing more than a handful of search queries typed into Google. What he found were 31 sites maintained by the US Central Intelligence Agency, NASA, the World Bank, and Fortune 500 companies that used flawed security sockets layer certificates for authentication.

Among the scofflaws was a page for partner accounts offered by technology website CNET and this application page offered by Gartner, a company that dispenses advice on a host of security issues. Other organizations using defective certificates included the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team, Advanced Micro Devices, and Microsoft.

SSL was developed in the mid 1990s as a measure to prevent websites that transact commerce or other sensitive business from being spoofed by attackers intent on defrauding visitors. It uses cryptographic certificates that mathematically validate that the site is operated by a particularly company or organization. Few webmasters give proper time to implementing and maintaining SSL certificates, however, an oversight that reduces their effectiveness.

SSL "suffers from the fact that it's one of the exotic technologies that we all had to get working for the whole internet .com thing to happen," Thayer says. "Everybody basically for the last five years at least who's done this was just following a check list that got handed, so nobody's really been thinking of this as a security issue."

In many cases, the certs identified by Thayer have expired. In other cases, they use an insecure version known as SSL 2, an obsolete algorithm known as 40-bit RC-4 or certificates that are misconfigured. The findings raise questions about whether the websites that use them are complying with regulations that govern medical providers, federal agencies, and merchants who accept credit cards.

The Federal Information Processing Standards (pdf), for example, require federal agencies to use valid SSL certificates for webpages that accept employee logins. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (pdf) and Payment Card Industry rules place similar requirements on health care providers and online merchants respectively.

In some cases, the dysfunctional forms accompany web addresses that webmasters long abandoned. This may seem innocuous, but Thayer warns they can erode security by training users to ignore security warnings automatically generated by web browsers.

Other organizations included in Thayer's findings include Intuit, Google, Mercedes Benz, and Adobe. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
Carders punch holes through Staples
Investigation launched into East Coast stores
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.