SSL’s No Good, Very Bad Couple of Months

The world of SSL/TLS security has had, well, a bad couple of months.

‘Tis but a limited exploit!

First, we’ve had a rash of very serious certificate authority security breaches. An Iranian hacker was able to hack Comodo, a certificate authority, and create valid, signed certficates for sites like and Then another SSL certificate authority in the Netherlands got p0wned so bad the government stepped in and took them over, probably from the same group of hackers from Iran.

Iran and China have both been accused of spying on dissidents through government or paragovernment forces. The Comodo and DigiNotar hacks may have lead to spying of Iranian dissidents, an a suspected attack by China a while ago prompted Google to SSL all Gmail connections at all times (not just username/password) by default, for everyone.

Between OCSP and CRLs, browser updates and rogue certificates, it’s called into question the very fabric of trust that we’ve taken for granted. Some even claim that PKI is totally broken (and there’s a reasonable argument for this).

This is what happens when there’s no trust. Also, this is how someone loses an eye. Do you want to lose an eye? Because this will totally do it.

Then someone found a way to straight up decrypt an SSL connection without any of the keys.

Wait, what?

It’s getting’ all “hack the planet” up in here.

The exploit is called BEAST, and it’s one that can decrypt SSL communications without having the secret. Thai Duong, one of the authors (the other is Juliano Rizzo) of the tool saw my post on BEAST, and invited me to watch the live demonstration from the hacker conference. Sure enough, they could decrypt SSL. Here’s video from the presentation:

Let me say that again. They could straight up decrypt that shit. 

Granted, there were some caveats, and the exploit can only be used in a in a somewhat limited fashion. It was a man-in-the-middle attack, but one that didn’t terminate the SSL connection anywhere but at the server. They found a new way to attack a known (but thought to be too impractical to exploit) vulnerability in the CBC part of some encryption algorithms.

The security community has known this was a potential problem for years, and it’s been fixed in TLS 1.1 and 1.2.

Wait, TLS? I thought this was about SSL?

Quick sidebar on SSL/TLS. SSL is the old term (the one everyone still uses, however). TLS replaced SSL, and we’re currently on TLS 1.2, although most people use TLS 1.0.

And that’s the problem. Everyone, and I do mean the entire planet, uses SSL 3.0 and TLS 1.0.  TLS 1.1 has been around since 2006, and TLS 1.2 has been around since 2008. But most web servers and browsers, as well as all manner of other types of SSL-enabled devices, don’t use anything beyond TLS 1.0.

And, here’s something that’s going to shock you:

Microsoft IIS and Windows 7 support TLS 1.1. OpenSSL, the project responsible for the vast majority of SSL infrastructure used by open source products (and much of the infrastructure for closed-source projects), doesn’t. As of writing, TLS 1.1 or above hasn’t made it yet into OpenSSL libraries, which means Apache, OpenSSH, and other tools that make use of the OpenSSL libraries can’t use anything above TLS 1.0. Look at how much of a pain in the ass it is right now to enable TLS 1.2 in Apache.

We’re into double-facepalm territory now

No good, very bad month indeed.

So now we’re going to have to update all of the web servers out there, as well as all the clients. That’s going to take a bit of doing. OpenSSL runs the SSL portion of a lot of sites, and they’ve yet to bake TLS 1.1/1.2 into the versions that everyone uses (0.9.8 and 1.0.x). Load balancers are going to play a central role in all of this. so we’ll have to wait for F5, Cisco, A10 Networks, Radware, and others to support TLS 1.2. As far as I can tell, only F5’s LTM version 11 supports anything above TLS 1.0.

The tougher part will be all of the browsers out there. There are a lot of systems that run non-supported and abandoned browsers. At least SSL/TLS is smart enough to be able to downgrade to the highest common denominator, but that would mean potentially vulnerable clients.

In the meantime something that web servers and load balancers can do is take Google’s lead and prefer the RC4 symmetric algorithm. While cryptographically weaker, it’s immune to the CBC attack.

This highlights the importance of keeping your software, both clients and servers, up to date.  Out of convenience we got stale with SSL, and even security the security obsessed OpenSSL project got caught with their pants down. This is really going to shake a lot of systems down, and hopefully be a kick in the pants to those that think it’s OK to not run current software.

I worked at an organization once where the developers forked off Apache (1.3.9 I believe) to interact with an application they developed. This meant that we couldn’t update to the latest version of Apache, as they refused to put the work in to port their application module to the updated versions of Apache. I bet you can guess how this ended. Give up? The Apache servers got p0wned.

So between BEAST and PKI problems, SSL/TLS has had a rough go at it lately. It’s not time to resort to smoke signals just yet, but it’s going to take some time before we get back to the level of confidence we once had. It’s a scary-ass world out there. Stay secure, my friends.

7 Responses to SSL’s No Good, Very Bad Couple of Months

  1. Despite the name, OpenSSL isn’t related to OpenBSD – it’s derived from SSLeay:

    That said, OpenSSH, OpenCVS, and OpenNTPD all are OpenBSD derived, so it’s an understandable change.

    There are a few TLS 1.2 software implementations ready for use:

    But it doesn’t do anything to fix client support…

  2. Tony says:

    Let’s be honest. It’s bad… I can agree with that. But is enabling TLS 1.2 in Apache a pain in the ass? Not really. Is it intuitive? Probably not. But it can be done quite simply in a matter of a few minutes. Even the site you reference, with great instructions btw, says, “Getting GnuTLS to run in Apache2 is actually pretty easy.”

    Just my 2p.

    • tonybourke says:

      Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but it’s still a manual compilation. Which means you can’t use whatever distro/software management system to automatically update when security updates are made available. I’d prefer it to be like the other apps in my distro: Part of a ready made package automatically updated when needed. The significantly decreases my admin workload.

      • Tony says:

        The epi-tome of hyber-bowl! But seriously, I understand what you’re saying. The major issue here is that OpenSSL needs to wake the f- up and implement TLS 1.1 / 1.2.

  3. Pingback: BPDU the next incrementation | Router Jockey

  4. Ellis Mann says:

    Awesome blog you have hhere

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