bankofamerica.com

Unbreaking FireFox SSL Behavior

Sunday, January 24, 2010 

I used to love firefox, but then somebody decided that users were way too stupid to make it through web browsing without an endless parade of  warnings about SSL certs.  The premise seems to be that:

  • Valid certs are meaningful.
  • Self-Signed or expired certs are indicative of a problem.

Neither is true.

(To a statistical certainty.  Some user somewhere will be validly warned away from a phishing site someday.)

Valid certs mean next to nothing since the users that these warnings are targeted to (and me too) will never ever notice if they’re going to bankofamerica.com (or whatever BofA’s legitimate URL is) or bankomerica.com (assuming bankomerica isn’t a valid bank of america domain).  Thus bankomerica can dupe bankofamerica’s website and get a perfectly valid cert and if users were dumb enough to believe that a lack of warnings indicated validity as the huge scary warnings effectively convey, then they’d be easy prey.

The only valid purpose of SSL is to secure communication between a server and a client so you can check your web mail at a cafe without worrying about being snooped and a self-signed cert does that just as well as one issued by the cert mafia.  Sure, sure the giant cert authorities would love to take your $1,000 a year to give a your user’s some sort of guarantee that you’re really who you say you are, but that doesn’t make any difference at all in practice.

As for DNS hijacking so amazon.com goes to a spoof site where the transaction security is compromised (and in theory the self-signed cert would be a give-away) just mod-rewrite to http then redirect to amazoncheck0utservices.com and get a valid cert for it.

Besides, after users have been forced to dismiss a zillion intra-net “invalid” certs, they’ve learned to completely ignore the warnings and so automatically click through the scary and almost always pointless warnings FireFox generates. Or, like many people, users stop abandon the scary, irritating browser and go back to IE.  Win.  Oh wait… FAIL.

Secure DNSSEC is smart, but forget warning people into oblivion over self-signed certs, the net effect is to make the web less secure because site admins have to choose between absurd fees for certs or turning certs off.  Until FireFox fixes this counterproductive behavior, there are two things that help.  First, browse to about:config and set browser.ssl_override_behavior to “2”.

FIX SSL config in FireFox

I’ve also found the Persepectives Plugin useful to reduce the number of pointless and irritating error warnings Firefox generates when it sees a cert that hasn’t fully paid up the protection racket extortion fees by using a polling mechanism, effectively saying (to a collection of referee sites) “ya’ll think this cert is ok?” and if they say “yeah…” then you get no error.

Perspectives_plugin

There fixes are helpful for those of us sufficiently skilled to use them, but unfortunately they won’t prevent users abandoning the endlessly “WOLF!” crying FireFox for IE.

Posted at 19:18:52 GMT-0700

Category: technology

26c3 Berlin

Thursday, December 31, 2009 

26c3 was a blast, as was Berlin. It’s a good conference in the olde school hacker style: mostly younger people, mostly wearing black. There weren’t a lot of women, but Carolyn, Isabella, and Meredith tried to even out the ratio a bit.

Some of the best lectures included one by some German engineers working on the lunar x-prize. They had their prototype rover with them and gave a great talk about the various challenges.

Another great one was Dan Kaminski’s talk on PKI. I don’t agree with the premise that SSL should be a reliable method for identifying the owners of websites as people just can’t tell the difference between bankofamerica.com and bancomerica.com and so it doesn’t make anyone safer if the bankofamerica site is super green if bancomerica.com is also super green, and so the complexities of getting an accepted certificate simply reduce the use of secure connections and the overall security of the internet. But he had some pretty great attacks on the security of SSL that causes problems no matter what.

We enjoyed fuzzing the phone as well. It was a very entertaining talk on attacking phones with crafted SMSes. The method of creating the attacks was very clever – rooting the phone, redirecting the radio to a wifi link to a CPU so they could try zillions of SMS and see what would happen. In the process they discovered they could remotely root the communications manager (which runs as root). And %n to specific windows phones and they’ll crash and fail to reboot until the SMS is cleared out of the inbox.

Berlin is a great city and it was fun working in the shadow of the TV tower.

We made reservations for lunch but we could tell it wasn’t going to be a great day. In the end it was a very intimate lunch with pretty clouds pressing against the glass.

The fog lifted but was replaced by snow, which is a lot of fun in a city when you don’t have to drive.

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Posted at 11:42:34 GMT-0700

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