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How is SSL hopelessly broken? Let us count the ways

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Was it Iran?

Abdulhayoglu has also taken heat for claiming the counterfeiters were acting on behalf of the Iranian government, even though his sole support for that contention is Iranian IP addresses used to hack into the RA's system and to test the validity of one of the forged certificates.

Even after the purported hacker stepped forward to say he acted on his own and provided incontrovertible proof he had access to one of the forged certificate's private key, Abdulhayoglu has continued to insist the attack could only have been carried out by a well-funded, state-sponsored actor.

His claim is that the attackers used a “zero-day vulnerability followed by reverse engineering” of code taken from the reseller's fully-patched server.

According to an interview the purported hacker gave to Rob Graham, CEO of Errata Security, the zero-day exploit involved a SQL injection, which is the most common form of attack on the internet. The code that was reverse engineered was written in Microsoft's C#, which unlike languages such as C++, is extraordinarily easy to decompile.

“This is again the attempt by the CEO to be disingenuous,” said Graham, whose company regularly carries out penetration tests to gauge the security of clients' systems. “We've done hacks like this, so when he says it was so complex it must have taken a team, no. We've done simple hacks like that that took one person one day.”

Whatever exaggerations or unsubstantiated claims Abdulhayoglu has bandied, the CEO should be commended for admitting the shortcomings of the industry he is part of. He was a founding member of the CA/Browser Forum, the group that got extended validation certificates off the ground. He also backs other industry initiatives to improve SSL security, including the Certification Authority Authorization Resource Record currently under consideration by the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Another proposal under consideration is known as the DNS-based Authentication of Named Entities. It would go a long way to locking down the SSL system, but it requires the implementation of DNSSEC, or DNS Security Extensions. The cryptographic system for improving the security of the internet's domain-name lookup system has been gaining steam, but it's got a long way to go.

Another initiative includes the Google Certificate Catalog, which indexes technical details of all SSL certificates spotted by the search engine's agents

Given the growing sophistication of hacks that have hit Google and what many believe could be hundreds of other companies – virtually all of which count on SSL to secure their internal networks – here's hoping the industry puts aside its security theater antics and heeds his calls for reform.

“It's pretty crappy, but it's what it is now,” White Hat Security CTO Jeremiah Grossman said, referring to the SSL system. “It is definitely weak. It could fall down at anytime.” ®

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