Feeds

Trustwave admits crafting SSL snooping certificate

Allowing bosses to spy on staff was wrong, says security biz

The essential guide to IT transformation

Certificate Authority Trustwave has revoked a digital certificate that allowed one of its clients to issue valid certificates for any server, thereby allowing one of its customers to intercept their employees' private email communication.

The skeleton-key CA certificate was supplied in a tamper-proof hardware security module (HSM) designed to be used within a data loss prevention (DLP) system. DLP systems are designed to block the accidental or deliberate leaking of company secrets or confidential information.

Using the system, a user's browser or email client would be fooled into thinking it was talking over a secure encrypted link to Gmail, Skype or Hotmail. In reality it was talking to a server on the firm's premises that tapped into communications before relaying them to the genuine server. The DLP system needed to be able to issue different digital certificates from different services on the fly to pull off this approach, which amounts to a man-in-the-middle attack.

The same principle approach might be used in government monitoring activities, such as spying on its own citizens using web services such as Gmail and Skype. Evidence suggests that digital certificates issued by Netherlands-based firm DigiNotar last year were used in this way to eavesdrop on the webmail communications of Iran users last year, although no firm state-sponsored connection has been established.

In a statement published on Sunday, Trustwave said it supplied the tamper-proof digital stamp issuing device to a private customer (not an ISP, government or law enforcement agency), adding that the technology could not have been used outside the private network to which it was supplied. The CA said it had carried out an audit of the target network before supplying the technology.

Nonetheless, it admits the approach was misguided and has promised not to use the technique again. It has also revoked the offending subordinate digital credential-issuing root server.

Sysadmins applying data loss prevention policies that state that a firm has the right the scan and or block webmails sent from work can set up an internal certificate authority on machines connected to a local intranet. That approach wouldn't work on personal mobile devices a user brought into work and this seems to be the reason why Trustwave took the approach it did – which it now admits was misguided.

Trustwave has come clean and admitted it supplied technology that enabled third parties to issue arbitrary SSL server certificates for monitoring, albeit for benign reasons. This is a significant admission and further shakes confidence in the whole digital certificate trust model, already rocked by the Comodo breach, the DigiNotar hack, the SSL BEAST attack and other problems over recent months. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen
I scream, you scream, we all scream 'DATA BREACH'!
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
New Snowden leak: How NSA shared 850-billion-plus metadata records
'Federated search' spaffed info all over Five Eyes chums
Three quarters of South Korea popped in online gaming raids
Records used to plunder game items, sold off to low lifes
Oz fed police in PDF redaction SNAFU
Give us your metadata, we'll publish your data
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?