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Burned by DigiNotar, Mozilla tells cert cops to audit security

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Mozilla has directed all web authentication authorities trusted by its software to conduct security audits to ensure they aren't being abused to issue counterfeit secure sockets layer certificates.

Thursday's note from Kathleen Wilson, who oversees the certificate authorities included in the Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client, gives all participants eight days to confirm their systems are secure from the same type of compromise that recently hit Netherlands-based DigiNotar. Hackers penetrated the authority's certificate issuance systems and minted at least 531 counterfeit credentials, including one for a Google.com that was used to spy on Iranians accessing their Gmail accounts.

“Mozilla recently removed the DigiNotar root certificate in response to their failure to promptly detect, contain, and notify Mozilla of a security breach regarding their root and subordinate certificates,” Wilson wrote. “If you ever have reason to suspect a security breach or mis-issuance has occurred at your CA or elsewhere, please contact [Mozilla] immediately.”

DigiNotar's omissions came as a personal affront to Mozilla, since one of the domains they imperiled was https://addons.mozilla.org/, home of tens of thousands of addons that add powerful capabilities to the default versions of Firefox and Thunderbird.

Wilson went on to direct all companies participating under the Mozilla root program to complete five actions, including auditing their certificate issuance systems for signs of intrusion, compiling a complete list of root certificates authorized to issue credentials, and to “confirm that multi-factor authentication is required for all accounts capable of directly causing certificate issuance.”

“Participation in Mozilla's root program is at our sole discretion, and we will take whatever steps are necessary to keep our users safe,” Wilson wrote.

She gave them until September 16 to confirm completion of those steps or say when they would be completed. A Google spokesman said company representatives had no plans to send similar requests to the authorities trusted in the Chrome browser. A Microsoft spokeswoman didn't say if CAs included in Windows will also be required to audit their security. Instead, she did issue a statement saying the company "is always evaluating its Certificate Authority Program and we will be distributing any new guidelines as needed."

A Mozilla spokeswoman said 54 certificate authorities participate in its program using a total of 147 root certificates. See this spreadsheet for a detailed break down. ®

This post was updated to include comment from Microsoft.

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