This year is nearly at the end but it looks like it is really endless, at least from an Information Security Perspective. As a matter of fact this 2011 will leave an heavy and embarassing heritage to Information Security: the Certification Authority authentication model, which has been continuously under siege in this troubled year; a siege that seems endless and which has shown its ultimate expression on the alleged compromise of yet another Dutch Certification Authority: Gemnet.
Gemnet, an affiliate of KPN, has suspended certificate signing operation after an intrusion on its publicly accessible instance of phpMyAdmin (a web interface for managing SQL Database) which was, against any acceptable best practice, exposed on the Internet and not protected by password. As in case of Diginotar, another Dutch Certification Authority which declared Bankrupt few days after being compromised by the infamous Comodo Hacker, Gamnet has the Dutch government among its customers including the Ministry of Security and Justice, Bank of Dutch Municipalities and the police.
After the intrusion, the attacker claimed to have manipulated the databases, and to allegedly have been able to gain control over the system and all of the documents contained on it, although KPN, claims the documents contained on the server were all publicly available. Moreover the attacker claimed the attack was successful since he could obtain the password (braTica4) used for administrative tasks on the server. As a precaution, while further information is collected about the incident, Gemnet CSP, KPN’s certificate authority division, has also suspended access to their website.
The breach is very different, in purpose and motivations, from the one occurred to Diginotar, at the end of July, which led to the issuance of more than 500 bogus Certificates (on behalf of Google, Microsoft, and other companies). In case of Diginotar the certificates were used to intercept about 300,000 Iranians, as part of what was called “Operation Black Tulip“, a campaign aimed to eavesdrop and hijack dissidents’ emails. For the chronicles, the same author of the Diginotar hack, the Infamous Comodo Hacker, had already compromised another Certification Authority earlier this year, Comodo (which was at the origin of his nickname). In both cases, the hacks were performed for political reasons, respectively as a retaliation for the Massacre of Srebrenica (in which the Comodo Hacker claimed the Dutch UN Blue Helmets did not do enough to prevent it), and as a retaliation for Stuxnet, allegedly developed in a joint effort by Israel and US to delay Iranian Nuclear Program.
But although resounding, these are not the only examples of attacks or security incidents targeting Certification Authorities: after all, the attacks against CAs started virtually in 2010 with the infamous 21th century weapon Stuxnet, that could count among its records, the fact to be the first malware using a driver signed with a valid certificate belonging to Realtek Semiconductor Corps. A technique also used by Duqu, the so called Duqu’s son.
Since then, I counted 11 other breaches, perpetrated for different purposes: eavesdropping (as is the case of the Infamous Comodo Hacker), malware driver signatures, or “simple” compromised servers (with DDoS tools as in case of KPN).
At this point I wonder what else we could deploy to protect our identity, given that two factor authentication has been breached, CAs are under siege, and also SSL needs a substantial revision. Identity protection is getting more and more important, since our privacy is constantly under attack, but we are dangerously running out of ammunitions.
(Click below for references)
9/9/2011: Globalsign admitted evidence of a breach to the web server hosting the www website:
Today we found evidence of a breach to the web server hosting the www website. The breached web server has always been isolated from all other infrastructure and is used only to serve the http://www.globalsign.com website. At present there is no further evidence of breach other than the isolated www web server. As an additional precaution, we continue to monitor all activity to all services closely. The investigation and high threat approach to returning services to normal continues.
Starting from March 2011, one might say that the authentication bastions have been crumbling one after another. In hindsight, one event in particular occurred during March 2011 has been mostly underestimated. Of course I am not referring to the RSA affair, but to the Comodo Hack, whose only blame was to happen too close in time to the RSA Breach, which ended up obfuscating its impact for the Information Security Landscape … At least until August 2011.
As a matter of fact when, immediately after the Comodo Hack, the so called Comodo Hacker published on pastebin his declaration of Cyberwar, no one considered the hypothesis that other Certification Authorities could have been equally compromised. Consequently, although the hack was classified as a serious cyberattack, driven by a political matrix and capable to establish a new (unwelcome) record, it was considered an isolated episode, mainly due to the scarce attention to application security by the targeted Comodo partner. Moreover the final target (Google) and the political reasons behind the attack deserved much more attention than the means used to perpetrate the attack itself: the first-time compromission of a Certification Authority, a completely inedited attack vector.
Nearly four months later, the Diginotar hack (again an attack with alleged political reasons behind although according to Trend Micro it targeted Iranian Internet users) has shown to the world the weaknesses of our authentication model and its chain of trust. Not only the hacker was able to forge more than 500 fake Code Sign and SSL certificates, but he also claimed to have access to other four CAs, quoting explicitly GlobalSign, and indirectly another one StartCom, which was able to avoid the hack since its CEO was sitting in front of the HSM during the attack, although the Comodo Hacker claims to own email, DB Backup and Customer data.
Trust in Diginotar Certificate Authority has been revoked from all browsers and OSes, permanently from all Mozilla Products, but not from Smartphones, with heavy consequences for the Dutch government’s PKIoverheid (PKIgovernment) program. Of course, easily predictable, the assertions from Comodo Hacker triggered panic between cert providers. On September the 6th GlobalSign decided to temporary cease issuance of all certificates as a precautionary measure and appointed Fox-IT to perform an intensive audit (Fox-IT is the same Dutch Cybsersecurity Company which performed the audit on Diginotar); on September the 7th Symantec released a statement to reassure their customers their infrastructure has been audited and it is not compromised. A similar announcement has been published by Thawte after an erroneous report from a Dutch Government agency according to which the Security firm had been breached. Unfortunately the story does not end here and although the Comodo Hacker promises further disclosures.
If I can spend few words on the question, the best way to describe it is to quote a statement from GlobalSign: “these claims (from Comodo Hacker) represent an industry wide attack”. Said in simple words: the aftermaths of the Diginotar hack will force to rethink the current authentication model and chain of trust (even because authentication technologies and vendors are increasingly tied) even if we seriously risk to run out of ammo: in this year we lost tokens and CAs… Now What Else?
- 464,492 hits since November 2010
08/13/2011 - My Post on Android Malware Mentioned on Engadget.
04/14/2011 - The Article Smart Grid: L'ultima Frontiera del Cybercrime published on ICT Security Magazine May 2011.
03/14/2011 - Security Summit 2011: Paolo Passeri guest at Round Table "Mobile Security: Rischi, Tecnologie, Mercato"
02/14/2011 - The Article Gears of Cyberwar published on ICT Security Magazine January 2011.
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