When it comes to validating the identity of any public key infrastructure, digital certificates hold all the aces. A digital certificate is more of an electronic snippet that lends legitimacy to a web service or portal— associating the same to the concerned server precisely for allowing web browsers access information via an encrypted pathway. Secure Sockets Layer or SSL is one such authentication that is provided to a legit website by the CA or Certificate Authority. While SSL lends credibility to an online service provider, it secures and protects the web users in general.
That said, many cybercriminals have lately been concentrating on these SSL certificates. The concept behind the growing popularity is the sense of authentication and legitimacy which these certificates bring to the table. As we know, SSL certificates can protect the users by encrypting sensitive information including password, usernames and a lot more. Therefore, if a malicious website, owned by a cybercriminal, gets hold of an SSL certificate, it can leverage the confidential data sets in the most catastrophic ways.
The Importance of SSL Certificates
Put simply, an SSL certificate verifies the identity or the genuineness of a website. However, the type of certificate purchased by the website admin depends entirely on the Certificate Authority issuing the same. If a credible website gets hold of an SSL certificate, it becomes easier for the users to trust it; further strengthening the concept of privacy and confidentiality. Moreover, the websites with ‘https’ as the prefix are more trusted as compared to their ‘HTTP’ contemporaries— courtesy the existence of secured certificates.
Are Direct Attacks on SSL Certificates Possible?
It needs to be understood that malicious players will keep attacking secure systems provided there are financial incentives on offer. However, more often than not, a targeted attack against the SSL certificate is untenable – courtesy strengthened security systems. In addition to that, most web browsers today are equipped with threat management schemas which can easily detect potential pitfalls much before the occurrence.
The only way an SSL security threat can loom large is, if users willingly choose to ignore the warnings and click on spam emails or malicious links. However, issues like these can also be resolved quickly via automatic updates and patch installations.
How Attackers Actually Leverage Fraudulent SSL Certificates?
Unlike the low-end attacks that rely on misdirection, experienced cybercriminals resort to ‘Total Failure of Trust’ for gaining access to confidential user information. That said, once the authentication system gets compromised, it becomes impossible for the security features to shield user data and the attackers typically use this loophole to gain an advantage.
We do realize that the entire authentication system of an SSL certification depends on the CA offering the same. However, if by any means a malicious party gets hold of a certificate; it can then spoof online interactions; thereby monitoring, cataloging and eventually stealing sensitive user information. A fraudulent SSL certificate, when and if acquired by a malicious organization, can compromise the safety standards pertaining to the legit ones. A fraudulent yet certified website can then resort to phishing for motivating users into making purchases and sharing their personal details. Moreover, if these malicious hackers have additional resources, they can always hack into the existing SSL framework of credible websites and compromise the certificate systems. This is when they extend their portals with fraudulent certificates installed.
How to Stay Safe against Systemic Failure?
As mentioned, it all boils down to the Certificate Authority issuing the SSL certificate. Any act of negligence on the part of these CAs can end up giving certain privileges to the malicious parties. The best approach which a user can adopt is to turn on the automatic updates while manually updating the system at regular intervals. That includes updating the browser and even the concerned operating system.
However, the introduction of the Certificate Authority Authorization (CAA) is probably the best way to deal with the proliferation of fraudulent SSL certificates. According to this implementation, the DNS record needs to be checked before determining the authorized CA that assigns the SSL certificate for the website. The CAA, therefore, determines if the Certificate Authority is eligible to provide an SSL certification to a specific website.
An SSL certificate is a measure of authenticity. However, with cybercriminals trying to make use of the fraudulent digital certificates for gaining an undue advantage, it becomes crucial that stricter legislations are put in place followed by frequently updated systems and administrator-based protective measures.