Feeds

Trustwave admits crafting SSL snooping certificate

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

Security for virtualized datacentres

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. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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?
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
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
'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
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
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?
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.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.