Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Verisign Hacked!

Verisign was breached according to an SEC report (Reuters), yet they report almost no details and act like it's no big deal!

An excerpt from Reuters (emphasis mine):

"Oh my God," said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and before that the top lawyer at the National Security Agency. "That could allow people to imitate almost any company on the Net."
I knew instantly why Baker is a former Assistant Secretary to DHS: because he understands the gravity of a real security incident. Had he not understood, he would probably still be employed at DHS, along with all of the other laughing stocks and poster children for security theater.

Back on topic: Verisign is probably the single largest peddler of SSL certificates and their Certificate Authorities (CAs) are probably used by more browsers and other applications than any other. Talk about all your eggs in one basket! Not to mention their impact on the control of DNS.

In a past life as a customer of Verisign's certificates, I did not like dealing with them. They were arrogant, acted like they had no competitors, and charged exorbitant prices for their certs. That stated, the fact that mum's the word on what could possibly be the single largest breach in internet history is much cause for concern. If their private keys for any of their CA certs, including their intermediary certs, are breached, then anybody could impersonate any site they wish on the web.

First it was RSA being tight lipped on their SecurID breach, and now it's Verisign on who knows what was breached.

In the authentication world, there really only are 2 methodologies: A) hierarchical, or B) web of trust. Public Key Infrastructure (i.e. Certificate Authorities) are hierarchical. Essentially, we all trust a self-appointed few to discern for us who is authentic and who is not. In the web of trust model, that discernment choice is distributed among all the participants. You may chose to trust a website is your bank, you may not. The most common implementation of web of trust is PGP (the protocol, not the PGP company, which is rife with their own history of issues.) The con to web of trust is that your Grandma (or maybe even you) won't know who to trust, so she'll have a hard time setting up her {computer, iPhone, whatever}. In the hierarchical model, you don't have to think, but sometimes not thinking is a bad thing.


What can be learned from this?

1) Even the largest internet security giants can fall, and when they fall they hit the ground hard. A large, recognizable brand may not necessarily improve security. Though these incidents do not conclusively prove this, there is reason to believe that these companies present themselves as a treasure trove to their adversaries. They simply house assets of far greater value than what may otherwise be understood. Aligning your business with these high valued assets might be attracting unnecessary attention from web thieves to your business.

2) It is probably time to revisit the web of trust model.

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