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Researcher raps Apple for not blocking stolen SSL certificates

'Dragging its feet' by not matching rivals in barring access to sites secured with suspect cert

September 8, 2011 06:38 AM ET

Computerworld - A security researcher criticized Apple for what he called "foot dragging" over the DigiNotar certificate fiasco, and urged the company to quickly update Mac OS X to protect users.

"We're looking at some very serious issues [about trust on the Web] and it doesn't help matters when Apple is dragging its feet," said Paul Henry, a security and forensics analyst with Arizona-based Lumension.

Unlike Microsoft, which updated Windows Tuesday to block all SSL (secure socket layer) certificates issued by DigiNotar, Apple has not updated Mac OS X to do the same.

DigiNotar, one of hundreds of firms authorized to issue digital certificates that authenticate a website's identity, admitted on Aug. 30 that its servers were compromised weeks earlier. A report made public Monday said that hackers had acquired 531 certificates, including many used by the Dutch government, and that DigiNotar was unaware of the intrusion for weeks.

Because almost all the people who were routed to a site secured with one of the stolen certificates were from Iran, many experts suspect that the DigiNotar hack was sponsored or encouraged by the Iranian government, which could use them to spy on its citizens.

Microsoft isn't the only software maker to block all DigiNotar certificates: Google, Mozilla and Opera have also issued new versions of their browsers -- Chrome, Firefox and Opera -- to completely, or in Opera's case, partially prevent users from reaching websites secured with a DigiNotar certificate.

Users of Safari on Mac OS X, however, remain at risk to possible "man-in-the-middle" attacks based on the fraudulently obtained certificates.

And that rubbed Henry the wrong way. "Mac users have been left hanging in the wind," Henry said.

Because Safari relies on the underlying operating system to tell it which certificates have been revoked or banned entirely, Apple must update Mac OS X. The Windows edition of Safari, which has a negligible share of the browser market, taps Windows' certificate list: That version is safe to use once Microsoft's Tuesday patch is applied.

Henry admitted he wasn't surprised by the fact that Apple was odd-man out.

"No, I'm not, not after it took them a month to respond to the Comodo issue," Henry said, referring to a smaller-scale hack of another certificate authority last March.

Then, Apple updated Mac OS X on April 14, nearly a month after Comodo discovered the intrusion and began notifying browser makers. Microsoft had patched Windows to block the stolen Comodo certificates on March 23, while Google and Mozilla had even earlier.

The DigiNotar hack, however, was larger -- criminals acquired only nine certificates from Comodo -- and more serious in that the Dutch government relied on DigiNotar to secure its websites.

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