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Posts Tagged ‘Certificate signing request’

Mobile Warfare… Certified…

March 30, 2011 3 comments

In this post I explained that, what I called the mobile warfare (that is social protest driven by mobile technologies and social networks), is rapidly spreading all over the Middle East, apparently with a systematic time scale (so far events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have been separated by approximately a month).

Many observers claim that, in the shorter term, Syria and Bahrain could be the next targets of internal protests (last week 150 people were killed in Syria and today the government led by PM Naji Otri has resigned, apparently a quantum shift).

But the wave coming from Maghreb, led by the mobile warfare, seems unstoppable and in the longer term, also Iran and Iraq, the main barriers of fundamentalism, could be affected as well.

Of course, one of the most exciting things of Infosec, is the fact that the reality is always one step ahead of the imagination. As a matter of fact I tried to imagine different ways in which bad guys from totalitarian regimes could prevent mobile technologies and social networks from achieving their scope to encourage citizens to join the protests, including DDoS, Internet connectivity disruption and so on… I could not imagine, however, that one could think to issue rogue certificates for some high profile websites used for email and chat in order, maybe, to intercept cumbersome and subversive communications.

That is exactly what happened with the Comodo Affaire in which some fraudulent certificates were issued by the Comodo Certificate Authority, exploiting a vulnerability of a couple of Italian affiliates (sigh!) globaltrust.it and instantssl.it allowing to issue a legitimate signed certificate on behalf of any requesting entity. This vulnerability was used in order to issue rogue Certificate Signing Request (CSR), that is false request to obtain legitimate SSL certificates for the following web sites:

  • login.live.com
  • mail.google.com
  • http://www.google.com
  • login.yahoo.com
  • login.skype.com
  • addons.mozilla.org

For those of you, who are not too much practical with Public Key infrastructure and Cryptography, this means that, in simple words, once obtained a rogue certificate one may build a false web site (for instance a false mail.google.com website) to capture precious information normally “traveling” on the web encrypted, for instance username and password of private email. This is called a man-in-the-middle attack.

Since it was discovered that the rogue Certificate Signing Request originated from an ISP located in Iran, an alleged political origin for the attack was proposed, motivating it with the attempt of the Iranian government (enforced by a Cyber Army), to intercept communications and more in general emails and chats belonging to political leaders not “too close” to the positions of Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (mmhh.. at least for the alleged purpose, to me it reminds Operation Aurora, doesn’t it?)

Now, it looks like that a lonely ranger Iranian hacker, not belonging to any army, claimed the to be the only author of hack (at this link the complete history and a detailed analysis of the event). Probably a real Iranian involvement will not ever been confirmed, but to me, the doubt that this action was planned to stop the mobile warfare remains intact. Otherwise I would not be able to understand why only certificates related to secure communication methods were affected, often used by dissidents to organize protests and share news with the world.

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