Feeds

Trustwave admits crafting SSL snooping certificate

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

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

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. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
NUDE SNAPS AGENCY: NSA bods love 'showing off your saucy selfies'
Swapping other people's sexts is a fringe benefit, says Snowden
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
British data cops: We need greater powers and more money
You want data butt kicking, we need bigger boots - ICO
Crooks fling banking Trojan at Japanese smut site fans
Wait - they're doing online banking with an unpatched Windows PC?
NIST told to grow a pair and kick NSA to the curb
Lrn2crypto, oversight panel tells US govt's algorithm bods
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
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.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.