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Hackers steal SSL certificates for CIA, MI6, Mossad

Criminals acquired over 500 DigiNotar digital certificates; Mozilla and Google issue 'death sentence'

September 4, 2011 05:35 PM ET

Computerworld - The tally of digital certificates stolen from a Dutch company in July has exploded to more than 500, including ones for intelligence services like the CIA, the U.K.'s MI6 and Israel's Mossad, a Mozilla developer said Sunday.

The confirmed count of fraudulently-issued SSL (secure socket layer) certificates now stands at 531, said Gervase Markham, a Mozilla developer who is part of the team that has been working to modify Firefox to blocks all sites signed with the purloined certificates.

Among the affected domains, said Markham, are those for the CIA, MI6, Mossad, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft's Windows Update service.

"Now that someone (presumably from Iran) has obtained a legit HTTPS cert for CIA.gov, I wonder if the US gov will pay attention to this mess," Christopher Soghoian, a Washington D.C.-based researcher noted for his work on online privacy, said in a tweet Saturday.

Soghoian was referring to assumptions by many experts that Iranian hackers, perhaps supported by that country's government, were behind the attack. Google has pointed fingers at Iran, saying that attacks using an ill-gotten certificate for google.com had targeted Iranian users.

All the certificates were issued by DigiNotar, a Dutch issuing firm that last week admitted its network had been hacked in July.

The company claimed that it had revoked all the fraudulent certificates, but then realized it had overlooked one that could be used to impersonate any Google service, including Gmail. DigiNotar went public only after users reported their findings to Google.

Criminals or governments could use the stolen certificates to conduct "man-in-the-middle" attacks, tricking users into thinking they were at a legitimate site when in fact their communications were being secretly intercepted.

Google and Mozilla said this weekend that they would permanently block all the digital certificates issued by DigiNotar, including those used by the Dutch government.

Their decisions come less than a week after Google, Mozilla and Microsoft all revoked more than 200 SSL (secure socket layer) certificates for use in their browsers, but left untouched hundreds more, many of which were used by the Dutch government to secure its websites.

"Based on the findings and decision of the Dutch government, as well as conversations with other browser makers, we have decided to reject all of the Certificate Authorities operated by DigiNotar," Heather Adkins, an information security manager for Google, said in a Saturday blog post.

Johnathan Nightingale, director of Firefox engineering, echoed that late on Friday.

"All DigiNotar certificates will be untrusted by Mozilla products," said Nightingale, who also said that the Dutch government had reversed its position of last week -- when it had asked browser makers to exempt its DigiNotar certificates.



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