Wednesday, March 25, 2009

ev certs are not so ev

Last week at CanSecWest, Alex Sotirov and Mike Zusman showed how extended validity (EV) certificates don't really provide much additional help to securing a site with SSL. To sum-up a couple of their conclusions:

1. It's not hard to get a regular cert for an interesting domain.
2. An EV-certified site can load data from any other SSL-encrypted locations, regardless of the cert.
3. Rogue cert + MITM + EV-site = arbitrary attack code execution on EV-site.

It seems to me that the problem is rooted in a slight but pervasive misunderstanding of what EV certs do: they provide a more rigorous check to ensure that the entity serving data through the EV certified channel is actually who they claim to be. They don't currently give proof to a site's visitor that the site has not been compromised.

Having said that, if an attacker can prey on the way the site serves content, it doesn't matter whether or not the EV entity is actually who they claim to be; an attacker can just piggyback on their session, serving some cleverly crafted data with a rogue cert. This can be done by playing man in the middle with third-party content embedded on the EV site, or by playing tricks with the browser's cache.

Easy fix: In order to display the green bar (EV badging) require all the stuff on a web page to be served with the same EV cert. This is not attractive for many reasons, including ad syndication and distributed content serving -- both highly desirable uses may cross the fully-qualified domain border and thus require non-EV certs or multiple different EV certs. (EV certs are not allowed to have wildcard domain matching, so any difference in domain name will cause the cert to be invalid).

A more desirable fix, in my opinion, will take a look at the problem from a base level and figure out why EV breaks in these mixed-content or mixed-cert scenarios--then fix EV. The EV cert says "trust my subject at" What we really need is a way to say "trust this site."

More to come.

Cheers to Sotirov and Zusman for this excellent discovery and PoC man-in-the-middle script.

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