Google takes Symantec to the woodshed for mis-issuing 30,000 HTTPS certs

[Note: This item comes from friend David Rosenthal. DLH]

Google takes Symantec to the woodshed for mis-issuing 30,000 HTTPS certs
Chrome to immediately stop recognizing EV status and gradually nullify all certs.
By Dan Goodin
Mar 23 2017
https://arstechnica.com/security/2017/03/google-takes-symantec-to-the-woodshed-for-mis-issuing-30000-https-certs/

In a severe rebuke of one of the biggest suppliers of HTTPS credentials, Google Chrome developers announced plans to drastically restrict transport layer security certificates sold by Symantec-owned issuers following the discovery they have issued more than 30,000 certificates.

Effective immediately, Chrome plans to stop recognizing the extended validation status of all certificates issued by Symantec-owned certificate authorities, Ryan Sleevi, a software engineer on the Google Chrome team, said Thursday in an online forum. Extended validation certificates are supposed to provide enhanced assurances of a site’s authenticity by showing the name of the validated domain name holder in the address bar. Under the move announced by Sleevi, Chrome will immediately stop displaying that information for a period of at least a year. In effect, the certificates will be downgraded to less-secure domain-validated certificates.

More gradually, Google plans to update Chrome to effectively nullify all currently valid certificates issued by Symantec-owned CAs. With Symantec certificate representing more than 30 percent of the Internet’s valid certificates by volume in 2015, the move has the potential to prevent millions of Chrome users from being able to access large numbers of sites. What’s more, Sleevi cited Firefox data that showed Symantec-issued certificates are responsible for 42 percent of all certificate validations. To minimize the chances of disruption, Chrome will stagger the mass nullification in a way that requires they be replaced over time. To do this, Chrome will gradually decrease the “maximum age” of Symantec-issued certificates over a series of releases. Chrome 59 will limit the expiration to no more than 33 months after they were issued. By Chrome 64, validity would be limited to nine months.

Thursday’s announcement is only the latest development in Google’s 18-month critique of practices by Symantec issuers. In October 2015, Symantec fired an undisclosed number of employees responsible for issuing test certificates for third-party domains without the permission of the domain holders. One of the extended-validation certificates covered google.com and http://www.google.com and would have given the person possessing it the ability to cryptographically impersonate those two addresses. A month later, Google pressured Symantec into performing a costly audit of its certificate issuance process after finding the mis-issuances went well beyond what Symantec had first revealed.

In January, an independent security researcher unearthed evidence that Symantec improperly issued 108 new certificates. Thursday’s announcement came after Google’s investigation revealed that over a span of years, Symantec CAs have improperly issued more than 30,000 certificates. Such mis-issued certificates represent a potentially critical threat to virtually the entire Internet population because they make it possible for the holders to cryptographically impersonate the affected sites and monitor communications sent to and from the legitimate servers. They are a major violation of the so-called baseline requirements that major browser makers impose of CAs as a condition of being trusted by major browsers.

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