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Survey: Trust in certificates 'near breaking point'

Maria Korolov | March 12, 2015
InfoSec pros believe that trust in keys and certificates is in jeopardy.

Half of all security professionals believe that trust in keys and certificates is in jeopardy, according to a new study of 2,300 information security professionals released today by the Ponemon Institute and Venafi.

According to the report, there's been a steady stream of incidents recently involving stolen keys and certificates.

For example, last summer, Russian cybercriminals stole an SSL/TLS certificate from a top-five global bank, which helped them impersonate the bank and steal 80 million customer records.

Another SSL/TLS key and certificate allowed hackers to steal data from 4.5 million healthcare patients.

And as part of the Flame malware attack, Microsoft's software update service was spoofed by exploiting MD5-based signatures.

"Every single enterprise that we surveyed had multiple attacks on their keys and certificates over the past two years," said Kevin Bocek, VP of security strategy and threat Intelligence at Salt Lake City-based Venafi.

"It's not just happening to Sony, it's happening to everyone," he added.

He was referring to the recent Sony breach, in which keys and certificates were among the haul collected by the attackers and weren't revoked for weeks after the attack.

The level of worry about certificates is up from the previous study, when it was at 45 percent.

Beyond the steady stream of news reports, there are other reasons why information security professionals are worried about keys and certificates.

One is that 54 percent of the respondents said they don't know where all the keys and certificates are, or how many of them are in use. This is up from 50 percent two years ago.

Meanwhile, the total number of keys and certificates used by the average enterprise is 24,000 -- up 34 percent from 17,000 two years ago.

"We've got a pretty big surface area for attack then, and a pretty big potential for risk," said Bocek.

The coming Cryptoapocalypse

One surprising finding of this year's report, was that while respondents actually faced more man-in-the-middle than any other kind of certificate-based attacks, they were most worried about attackers being able to break encryption.

The average organization saw 1.4 man-in-the-middle attacks over the past two years, followed by 1.2 attacks based on weak cryptography, 0.4 attacks based on enterprise mobility certificate misuse, 0.4 attacks based on code-signing certificate misuse, 0.3 attacks based on SSH key misuse, and 0.3 attacks based on server certificate misuse.

But man-in-the-middle attacks came in fourth when respondents were asked about their worries for the next two years, after code-signing and enterprise mobility certificate misuse.

One reason that worries about the cryptography ranked highest could be because of a Black Hat conference presentation, said Bocek.

"It was a session on the probability that on any day, the cryptographic algorithms that we rely on would be broken," he said.

 

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