from the who-watches-the-watchers dept.
Last August, after being alerted by GitHub's security team that the certificate authority WoSign had errantly issued a certificate for a GitHub domain to someone other than GitHub, Google began an investigation in collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation and a group of security professionals into the company's certificate issuance practices. The investigation uncovered a pattern of bad practices at WoSign and its subsidiary StartCom dating back to the spring of 2015. As a result, Google moved last October to begin distrusting new certificates issued by the two companies, stating "Google has determined that two CAs, WoSign and StartCom, have not maintained the high standards expected of CAs and will no longer be trusted by Google Chrome."
WoSign (based in Shenzen, China) and StartCom (based in Eliat, Israel) are among the few low-cost certificate providers who've offered wildcard certificates. StartCom's StartSSL offers free Class 1 certificates, and $60-per-year wildcard certificates—allowing the use of a single certificate on multiple subdomains with a single confirmation. This made the service wildly popular. But bugs in WoSign's software allowed a number of misregistrations of certificates. One bug allowed someone with control of a subdomain to claim control of the whole root domain for certificates. The investigation also found that WoSign was backdating the SSL certificates it issued to get around the deadline set for certificate authorities to stop issuing SHA-1 SSL certificates by January 1, 2016. WoSign continued to issue the less secure SHA-1 SSL certificates well into 2016.
Over the last several months Mozilla has been investigating a large number of breaches of what Mozilla deems to be acceptable CA protocols by the Chinese root CA WoSign and their perhaps better known subsidiary StartCom, whose acquistion by WoSign is one of the issues in question. Mozilla has now published their proposed solution (GoogleDocs link), and it's not looking good for WoSign and Startcom. Mozilla's position is that they have lost trust in WoSign and, by association StartCom, with a proposed action to give WoSign and StartCom a "timeout" by distrusting any certificates issued after a date to be determined in the near future for a period of one year, essentially preventing them issuing any certificates that will be trusted by Mozilla. Attempts to circumvent this by back-dating the valid-from date will result in an immediate and permanent revocation of trust, and there are some major actions required to re-establish that trust at the end of the time out as well.
This seems like a rather elegant, if somewhat draconian, solution to the issue of what to do when a CA steps out of line. Revoking trust for certificates issued after a given date does not invalidate existing certificates and thereby inconvenience their owners, but it does put a severe - and potentially business ending - penalty on the CA in question. Basically, WoSign and StartCom will have a year where they cannot issue any new certificates that Mozilla will trust, and will also have to inform any existing customers that have certificate renewals due within that period they cannot do so and they will need to go else where - hardly good PR!
What do the Soylentils think? Is Mozilla going too far here, or is their proposal justified and reasonable given WoSign's actions, making a good template for potential future breaches of trust by root CAs, particularly in the wake of other CA trust breaches by the likes of CNNIC, DigiNotar, and Symantec?
It appears this situation developed from this discussion at Google Groups.
[Editor's Note: SoylentNews used StartCom certificates in the past but we now use only certificates from Gandi and "Let's Encrypt."]
Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:
After being pinged by Mozilla for issuing backdated SHA-1 certificates, Chinese certificate authority WoSign's owner has put the cleaners through the management of WoSign and StartCom.
Mozilla put WoSign and StartCom on notice at the end of September.
As part of its response, the company has posted around 200,000 certificates with the Google transparency log server as well as on its own CT log server, covering everything issued in 2015 and 2016, with a promise to expand that to "all certificates past and present".
In this discussion thread, Bugzilla lead developer Gervase Markham explains that people from WoSign's majority shareholder Qihoo 360 and StartCom met with Mozilla representatives last Tuesday in London.
WoSign's full response is here (PDF). In it, as summarised in the mailing list discussion by StartCom founder Eddy Nigg, the company promises to:
Qihoo 360 is taking the issue of backdated SHA-1 certs, in January 2016, as the most serious violation, and the reason for the executive re-organisation.
The incident report states: "Wosign is in process of making legal and personnel changes in both WoSign and StartCom to ensure that both WoSign and StartCom have leadership that understand and follow the standards of running a CA".
The incident report lists more than 60 backdated certificates, including the one issued to Australian-headquartered payments processor Tyro (The Register has previously contacted Tyro for comment, but received no response).
StartCom customers received word that the company would close down as a certification authority due to the protective action browser manufacturers took against it, over a year ago. The news of the company closing down had been published November 16th on their website, but went unnoticed until now.
StartCom has played a critical role as a Certification Authority in data security and electronic commerce by providing an independent "trusted third party" guarantee all these years.
Around a year ago the majority of the browser makers decided to distrust StartCom, remove the StartCom root certificates from their root stores and not accept newly end entity certificates issued by StartCom.
Despite the efforts made during this time by StartCom, up to now, there has not been any clear indication from the browsers that StartCom would be able to regain the trust. Therefore, the owners of StartCom have decided to terminate StartCom as a Certification Authority (CA).
From January 1st, 2018, StartCom will not issue any new end entity certificate and will only provide validation services through its OCSP and CRL services for two years from January 1st, 2018. Starting 2020, all remaining valid certificates will be revoked.
StartCom wants to thank all of our customers and partners during these years for their support.
Disclaimer: Early on, SoylentNews used StartCom certs.