Jon Snader wrote:
> On Mon, Oct 13, 2003 at 06:49:30PM -0400, Ian Grigg wrote:
> > Yet others say "to be sure we are talking
> > to the merchant."  Sorry, that's not a good
> > answer either because in my email box today
> > there are about 10 different attacks on the
> > secure sites that I care about.  And mostly,
> > they don't care about ... certs.  But they
> > care enough to keep doing it.  Why is that?
> >
> I don't understand this.  Let's suppose, for the
> sake of argument, that MitM is impossible.  It's
> still trivially easy to make a fake site and harvest
> sensitive information.

Yes.  This is the attack that is going on.  This
is today's threat.  (In that it is a new threat.
The old threat still exists - hack the node.)

> If we assume (perhaps erroneously)
> that all but the most naive user will check that they
> are talking to a ``secure site'' before they type in
> that credit card number, doesn't the cert provide assurance
> that you're talking to whom you think you are?

Nope.  It would seem that only the more sophisticated
users can be relied upon to correctly check that they
are at the correct secure site.  In practice almost
all of these attacks bypass any cert altogether and
do not use an SSL protected HTTPS site.

They use a variety of techniques to distract the
attention of the user, some highly imaginative.

For example, if you target the right browser, then it
is possible to popup a box that covers the appropriate
parts.  Or to put a display inside the window that
duplicates the browser display.  Or the URL is one
of those with strange features in there or funny
letters that look like something else.

In practice, these attacks are all statistical,
they look close enough, and the fool some of the
people some of the time.

Finally, just in the last month, they have also
started doing actual cert spoofs.  This was quite
exciting to me to see a spoof site using a cert,
so I went in and followed it.  Hey presto, it
showed me the cert, as it said it was wrong!  So
I clicked on the links and tried to see what was

Here's the interesting thing:  I couldn't easily
tell, and my first diagnosis was wrong.  So then
I realised that *even* if the spoof is using a
cert, the victim falls to a confusion attack (see
Tom Weinstein's comments on bad GUIs).

(But, for the most part, 95% or so ignore the cert,
and the user may or may not notice.)

Now, we have no statistics on how many of these
attacks work, other than the following:  they keep
happening, and with increasing frequency over time.

>From this I conclude they are working, enough to
justify the cost of the attack at least.

I guess the best thing to say is that the raw
claim that the cert ensures that you are talking
to the merchant is not 100% true.  It will help
a sophisticated user.  An attack will bypass some
of the users a lot.  It might fool many of the
users only occasionally.

> If the argument is that Verisign and the others don't do
> enough checking before issuing the cert, I don't see
> how that somehow means that SSL is flawed.

SSL isn't flawed, per se.  It's just not appropriately
being used in the secure browser application.  It's
fair to say that its use is misaligned to requirements,
and a lot of things could be done to improve matters.

But, one of the perceptions that exist in the browser
world is that SSL secures ecommerce.  Until that view
is rectified, we can't really build the consensus to
have efforts like Ye & Smith, and Close, and others,
be treated as serious and desirable.

(In practice, I don't think it matters how Verisign
and others check the cert.  This is shown by the
fact that almost all of these attacks have bypassed
the cert altogether.)


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