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Mozilla The Internet Encryption Security

Firefox SSL-Certificate Debate Rages On 733

Posted by kdawson
from the four-screens-i-mean-really dept.
BobB-nw points out the ever more raucous debate over the way Firefox 3 handles self-signed certificates. The scary browser warnings have affected a number of legitimate sites (such as Google AdWords and LinkedIn) that didn't renew certs in time. Lauren Weinstein loudly called attention to the problem early in July. "If you visit a website with either an expired or a self-signed SSL certificate, Firefox 3 will not show that page at all. Instead it will display an error message... To get past this error page, users have to go through four different steps before they can access the website, which from a usability standpoint is far from ideal. This way of handling websites with expired or self-signed SSL certificates is bound to scare away a lot of inexperienced users, no matter how legitimate the website is."
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Firefox SSL-Certificate Debate Rages On

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  • Worth it. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Shaitan Apistos (1104613) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:28AM (#24703591)
    As long as I get my awesome bar, I'll put up with anything.
    • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bashae (1250564) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:32AM (#24703623)

      Well, I can live with it, but they could at least patch this feature to make it less annoying with self-signed certificates. Show a warning, yes, but right now the error message is too creepy.

      • Re:Worth it. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by gbjbaanb (229885) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:35AM (#24703649)

        amen. The error message seems to be designed for people who know about these things, not mom and pop users.

        They could improve the message significantly, explaining what the problem is and what to do about it. Then I think the issue wouldn't be so big anymore. People would still complain about the number of clicks to accept a self-signed cert, but at least it would appear as legitimate information instead of an 'error'.

        • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:58AM (#24703955)

          amen. The error message seems to be designed for people who know about these things, not mom and pop users.

          I don't follow this sentence. That seems to describe *precisely* the old way of doing things, an easily dismissable box that only experts took note of and understood. The new method is *supposed* to bother users and get them to pay attention to the actual risk, while offering them a way to still accept it.

          Whether or not you think being bothersome to users is a legitimate technique can and should be open to debate, but I don't think it targets experts at all...

          • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by MadnessASAP (1052274) <madnessasap@gmail.com> on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:28AM (#24704427)

            I agree totally, the problem isn't the scary browser notices. It's websites and their poor security practices perhaps now that those practices are having a noticeable impact on their business these websites will change said practices and it wont be a problem anymore.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              Um...there are plenty of legitimate sites that don't have signed certs by some arbitrary company. Mozilla is welcome to add our root CA to their trusted list whenever they want.
            • by IdahoEv (195056) on Friday August 22, 2008 @10:28AM (#24705331) Homepage

              I agree totally, the problem isn't the scary browser notices. It's websites and their poor security practices

              Self-signed certs are not always "poor security practices". Consider, for example, devices like the ubiquitous Linksys broadband routers. They support ssl connections for administration, which is probably a good idea (tm).

              But signed certs require a domain name, and cost real money (typically $100/year), which is probably a little much for a home user who just wants the extra security on their LAN. So self-signed certs are perfectly reasonable for uses like that.

          • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by beckerist (985855) on Friday August 22, 2008 @10:02AM (#24704909) Homepage
            I agree. The problem is though that the people that are complaining probably:
            A) Don't even know what it is and
            B) Don't even bother reading it once they figure out which order of buttons to push.

            Even though the concept SHOULD be easy enough for anyone who can figure out how to browse the internet, the issue isn't comprehension but presentation. It's immediately demoted to "annoying pop up" as opposed to "informative box I should read" in the style it's in now.
          • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by initdeep (1073290) on Friday August 22, 2008 @11:09AM (#24706013)

            Do you feel the same way about UAC in Vista?

            It serves the EXACT same purpose.

        • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by HungryHobo (1314109) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:03AM (#24704051)

          They could do with a red-yellow-green warning system.

          Red- sites with self signed certs which have changed since the last time you have visited them(keeping a record of all certs accepted to this point would be a good idea to help with this)
          Yellow- Self signed cert. Warning first time you go to the site with accept/reject.
          Green- Signed and verified by trusted 3rd party.

          Sites which have a signed and verified cert and which have marked themselves as "should always be HTTPS" but which you are visiting with HTTP -should be red as well.
          This way if some phisher sent you a link to http:\\paypal.com and paypal had registered with the trusted 3rd party that their site should always be using HTTPS then you get a red warning. Yes I know this would mean traffic to the trusted 3rd party whenever you visit any http site.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by erikina (1112587)
            Good idea. But the browser should automatically accept self signed certs. After all, it'll automatically accept insecure (http) connections.

            Just give them both yellow. And make know they need a green before doing anything really sensitive.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by blowdart (31458)
              Oh goodness no; think of the phishing problems. If you automatically accept without warning then phishing sites will look more legitimate. You may argue that the yellow will help but users don't pay attention to things like that; as long as it indicates there's some protection they'll accept that.
              • Re:Worth it. (Score:4, Insightful)

                by Sloppy (14984) on Friday August 22, 2008 @10:39AM (#24705513) Homepage Journal

                as long as it indicates there's some protection they'll accept that.

                So don't "indicate there's some protection." Just have it work at least as well as unencrypted connections, since it is at least as safe. If someone gets phished this way, then they're also getting phished every day on unencrypted connections.

            • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Conrad (600139) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:44AM (#24704645)

              Good idea. But the browser should automatically accept self signed certs. After all, it'll automatically accept insecure (http) connections.

              No! You switch to https to get a secure connection to who you're intending to talk to. A self-signed certificate doesn't tell you anything about who you're talking to. If you don't want security, stay on http.

              • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

                by croddy (659025) * on Friday August 22, 2008 @10:12AM (#24705025)

                No, I use SSL to obscure my messages from people in between me and the server. If I want to verify the party to whom I'm speaking, I'll go over there myself with a 6-pack.

                The funny thing about that 6-pack is that it costs more than the "real" SSL certificate, and I actually have to show ID sometimes to get it.

            • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Matthieu Araman (823) on Friday August 22, 2008 @10:05AM (#24704943)

              No, if the site uses SSL and the certificate is invalid, it may be a "Man in the middle attack".
              You can't just treat this like a http connection and not warn the user.
              There are many sites which should use real encrypted connections (ie with a signed certificate + SSL). I'm not fond of sending sensitive info in the clear (that's about the same thing with a self-signed certificate...)
              StartCom/StartSSL certificate are free and works with Firefox (and other CA are mostly cheap) so price is no longer an excuse...

            • Re:Worth it. (Score:4, Insightful)

              by huge (52607) on Friday August 22, 2008 @10:14AM (#24705061)

              Hell no!

              The difference is that when user is using HTTP there is no expectation of security while using SSL one assumes that connection is encrypted and authenticated.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by the_B0fh (208483)

            http:\\????

            So that you can always spot a windows user, I guess.

        • That's the point (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:11AM (#24704157)

          amen. The error message seems to be designed for people who know about these things, not mom and pop users.

          Mom and pop users should never, ever go to a website with self-signed or expired certs. It's true that there a lot of legitimate sites that fit the category, it might even be true that most of the self-signed sites are legit. The problem is that mom and pop users are not savvy enough to distrust anything, unless there's a big fat warning there.

          Firefox 3 allows you to permanently accept those certificates. If you're computer literate enough to know about these things, you whitelist those sites. If you're a mom and pop user, you call a tech savvy family member / friend / neighbor / neighbor's kid to vouch the site for you and whitelist it.

          • by gambino21 (809810) on Friday August 22, 2008 @10:02AM (#24704917)

            Mom and pop users should never, ever go to a website with self-signed or expired certs.

            You might want to add that Mom and pop users should never go to a website using basic http. Since many phishing sites don't bother with https. The ones that do use https could set up a domain name like www.phish.com/paypal and get their certificate signed by a thirdparty. Now those Mom and pop users can go to the https site will a full sense of security. Do you think that mom and pop users will tell the difference? I know my Mom wouldn't.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Hyppy (74366)

              You might want to add that Mom and pop users should never go to a website using basic http

              Really, now? So, you propose that the vast majority of internet servers are reconfigured to accept SSL connections? And then, should we upgrade the borderline-performance servers so the SSL encryption doesn't drag them down to the speed of an underclocked 486?

              I'll tell you what: you foot the bill, then I'll get the ball rolling.

        • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jeroen94704 (542819) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:49AM (#24704713)
          The problem is that mom and pop users are not the ones who should solve this issue, cannot be educated about cryptography in a warning message AND are the most likely victims of phishing attacks and such. The people who complain about the number of steps to set up an exception are also the people who can make an informed judgment about the trustworthiness of a site to begin with. We should NOT be putting mom and pop at risk for the convenience of the knowledgeable minority of users. The sites mom and pop are most likely to visit will have their certificates in order anyway (or should have, at least). Not being able to access some legitimate sites that insist on using self-signed certificates is a small price to pay.
      • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bunratty (545641) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:40AM (#24703713)
        It's supposed to be creepy [johnath.com], because it may be the only warning you're the victim of a DNS poisoning and you're not at the site you think you are, or you're the victim of a man-in-the-middle attack and your "encrypted" communications are being intercepted and read. At least in Firefox 3 you need to add an exception to see the site, so you see the warning only once. In Internet Explorer 7, you can see the site by clicking a link, but you will see the scary warning every time you visit the site. Users will disregard the warning if they see it very often, making the warning ineffective.
        • Re:Worth it. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by HungryHobo (1314109) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:06AM (#24704079)

          yes but it shouldn't treat a self signed cert worse than no cert unless it has changed since your last visit and if this is your first visit then it shouldn't be more creepy than simple http(no warning at all so your average mom and pop won't even think they're being scammed).

          • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Informative)

            by bunratty (545641) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:15AM (#24704219)

            If the site uses a self-signed cert and hasn't changed since your last visit, you get no warning in Firefox 3.

            If you visit a site for the first time and you get a self-signed certificate, that could be the only warning that you're the victim of a man-in-the-middle attack or DNS poisoning attack. You need a warning in that case. Please read the article I link to; it explains this point clearly.

            • Re:Worth it. (Score:4, Insightful)

              by LordLucless (582312) on Friday August 22, 2008 @10:35AM (#24705437)
              If you visit a site that doesn't use SSL, you'll never get any warning that you may be the victim of a man-in-the-middle or DNS poisoning attack.

              What you say is true. It doesn't make the parent's post any less true though. SSL > Self-Signed > HTTP.
            • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by onefriedrice (1171917) on Friday August 22, 2008 @12:59PM (#24707839)
              All of this new talk about self-signed certificates is clouding over the real, critical issue which has been around for longer than FF3. It would make more sense for the browser to treat a self-signed certificate like a CA-signed certificate rather than a regular http connection because (and here's the point) authentication in the browser is a myth. Let me walk you through this.

              Authentication doesn't exist on the internet because getting a genuine CA-signed certificate from a CA with a root that is already in your browser is hardly any more difficult or expensive than making a self-signed certificate. The tragedy is that the lock icon makes people feel safe when in reality, the authentication of the transaction relies entirely on supposed background checks which may or may not have been done by some CA that you won't know about unless you examine the certificate.

              Does anyone else see the problem with this!?

              A better idea is for the browser to raise the big warning flags for changed certificates (CA-signed or otherwise) so users can check manually whether it is a man-in-the-middle attempt or an official updated certificate from the site, and treat all https transactions as encrypted and better than a transaction with no encryption (regular http).

              A better long-term fix for this problem is to create a system (or use the system we have) to actually ensure authentication on the internet. For this to happen, we need browsers to stop including CA roots from CAs which happily sign certificates with zero or insufficient background checks. Of course this isn't bulletproof, but it would go a long way to providing real authentication on the internet.

              In the meantime, people need to stop thinking CA-signed certificates are very much safer than self-signed certificates. A CA-signed certificate from a specific CA that is known to provide good background checks is useful for authentication, but a CA-signed certificate from some random hole-in-the-wall CA that has a root in your browser provides no more authentication than a self-signed certificate does. At least its a step in the right direction for FF3 to show some information about the certificate from the URL bar rather than making users examine the certificate so that we can make our own determination of whether we trust the site based on if we trust the CA or not. Anyway, it's really the changed certificate that you need to worry about, regardless of who signed it, and encryption is also better than no encryption since at least the sniffers won't also get your info.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by scorp1us (235526)

            Mod parent down, it is the opposite of insightful.

            In a perfect world, the parent is right, some cert > no cert.

            However, given the recent disclosure of the DNS vulnerability, and that the fix does not fix anything. Certs are fundamentally used to establish identity, not provide encryption. You can *NEVER* establish identity with a self-signed cert. Even with a cert from an authority the idea of "trust" is not binary. Gaining trust is subjective, and when you trust an authority, you implicitly effectively

        • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Zeinfeld (263942) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:23AM (#24704335) Homepage
          It's supposed to be creepy, because it may be the only warning you're the victim of a DNS poisoning and you're not at the site you think you are, or you're the victim of a man-in-the-middle attack and your "encrypted" communications are being intercepted and read.

          This whole debate is rather off the point. Making changes to a security protocol in response to the last Slashdot thread is not exactly the best idea. There are more issues than just whether people can save a buck and get encryption. As you point out the point of the certificate is authentication, not encryption.

          Back in 1995 the Netscape folk decided to write the protocol in such a way that you had to have authentication of the server public key to do encryption. As it happens I argued against that choice at the time, and again when the self-signed certs issue came up again a few years ago I have consistently argued that the browser should allow ANY connection to be encrypted with ANY key, just don't bother to worry the user about it unless the cert is trustworthy according to the user spec.

          There are in fact changes in the works here. I am part of a W3C working group where we have discussed this exact issue. I have consistently argued for eliminating all security pop-up warnings of all types - they are designed to dump responsibility for security onto the user rather than be actually useful. I have also argued to make use of self-signed certificates easier as we should be moving to a position where security is the default on the Web.

          Yes I do work for a CA, no I am not speaking for them on this particular occasion, but we have consistently argued to make use of unpaid cryptography as easy as possible because anything that expands the use of cryptography is going to eventually expand the demand for authenticated keys. I really don't think that we will have large numbers of people stop paying the price of a Thawte or GeoTrust cert and switch to a self-signed. More businesses will go the other way.

          Its the same argument on code signing: all code should be signed, even development compiles. But only final production code should be signed with a trustworthy key - or the key is not going to be trustworthy very long. And only some final code will be signed by CA accredited keys. But that is fine if the O/S allows you to make statements of the sort 'drivers have to be signed by a trusted root, programs signed off a Web o' Trust key can run but only with restricted privs'.

          • Re:Worth it. (Score:4, Insightful)

            by illumin8 (148082) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:46AM (#24704669) Journal

            As it happens I argued against that choice at the time, and again when the self-signed certs issue came up again a few years ago I have consistently argued that the browser should allow ANY connection to be encrypted with ANY key, just don't bother to worry the user about it unless the cert is trustworthy according to the user spec.

            Don't you see a small problem with that? Don't let the user know that the free wifi access point they're using internet from is doing a man in the middle attack when they login to their bank account with what they think is SSL? Because, after all, encryption is better than no encryption.

            Encryption is not always a good thing, especially if there is no trust. You work at a CA, you should know that. Encryption without trust gives you the false impression that your data is safe. When really, all it takes is a trivial Linux box serving as a transparent proxy at the local free wifi hotspot to capture hundreds or thousands of banking passwords. After all, you get a certificate (even though it's invalid), so you should be able to just not let the user know about it and trust it anyway, right?

    • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mulvane (692631) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:36AM (#24703655)
      Let's not expect site maintainers to actually keep their ssl certs up to date. Oh noes. We want customers to not trust ssl certs so they may fall victim to a scam.
      • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Cormacus (976625) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:39AM (#24703687) Homepage
        I have to agree. Few things should be more important to a site administrator that handles personal information for their clients than getting their SSL certs updated in time.

        Browsers that allow this kind of lax security atmosphere are part of the problem.
      • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by phoenix321 (734987) * on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:54AM (#24703903)

        Better yet: expect the non-technical crowd, the users, to put up with errors of the pro-technical crowd, the site maintainers.

        Excellent shift of responsibility towards, right?

        I think this is an issue of whiny webmasters, really. A proper certificate is around 10 bucks per year and although they issue it to anyone, it is security at a much higher level than using a self-signed crutch.

        If you're a website owner, put up those 10 dollars and stop complaining. Keep your house clean and your certificates valid.

        EVERYTHING you do by that is better than to accustom millions of non-technical users to click away any and all error messages when surfing. If all browsers would show these drastic certificiate errors AND all SSL-loving webmasters would keep their certs updated, we would have less issues in phising and scamming, much less.

        Either you have security or you don't. Encrypting to someone is useless or even dangerous when you mistake the identity of the receiver.

        • Re:Worth it. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by exi1ed0ne (647852) * <exile@nosPam.pessimists.net> on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:20AM (#24704295) Homepage

          A proper certificate is around 10 bucks per year and although they issue it to anyone, it is security at a much higher level than using a self-signed crutch.

          Currently the only difference between a self signed cert and a $10 one is that the latter leaves you $10 poorer. There is no practical difference between the two. As a matter of fact, the current methodology of including certain CAs in browsers provides a false sense of security - which decreases the value of the system as a whole.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by erikina (1112587)
        That's really not the point. The point is, what's worse: Using NOTHING or using an expired/self-signed cert? Yes, self-signed certs introduces undetectable MiTM attacks, but they still stop listening (without actively changing every every packet being in the middle encrypted and decrypting from both sides).

        In fact, all browsers really bitch about self-signed certs, which is why none of my websites use https - when it would clearly be more secure.

        The only reason you would do that, is because people att
      • Re:Worth it. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:14AM (#24704201)
        And some of us WANT to be warned when we're dealing with a cheap-ass website whose people don't have their shit together. To me, a website who has let their certificate expire or is too cheap to spend $10 a year to get a real certificate is not a website that I want to be doing business with in the first place.
  • That's the point. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WPIDalamar (122110) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:32AM (#24703629) Homepage

    Isn't scaring away inexperienced users from sites with questionable security the whole point of those warnings?

    I mean a user friendly message that lets someone get past it really easily wouldn't exactly get the job done.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:42AM (#24703733)

      Didn't scare me away. I just bought a laptop from neweggs.com for a fantastic price, and their cert was expired. They even added a second layer of security for credit card transactions, requesting my SSN and driver's license. I can appreciate that level of trust from a website.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by swilver (617741)
      Arguably, sites that use SSL are more secure than regular HTTP sites. Why then are no big red warnings displayed for every regular HTTP site visited?
      • by MiKM (752717) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:11AM (#24704155)
        Unlike sites with self-signed certs, sites with vanilla HTTP make no claim about their security.
      • by huge (52607) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:35AM (#24704499)

        You are talking about encryption while the error message is about authentication. While these two are closely related in this context, they are different things.

        SSL without proper chain of trust (authentication) is secure against eavesdropping but not MitM. Properly implemented SSL is resistant against both. SSL was designed for both authentication and encryption so it shouldn't automatically degrade to encryption-only.

        The difference is that admins of the SSL site want that their users make sure that they are connecting to the correct server. It's the admin of the site who is requesting the browser to flag up any potential problem with the connection. If they wouldn't care, they wouldn't have used SSL in the first place.

    • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:13AM (#24704191) Homepage Journal

      Isn't scaring away inexperienced users from sites with questionable security the whole point of those warnings?

      I mean a user friendly message that lets someone get past it really easily wouldn't exactly get the job done.

      Plain http is even more questionable, and somehow it doesn't complain about that. Also, some people tend to think that CAs are more security theater than real security, and there are better ways to do things.

  • With all the sites out there just looking to steal information from you, and to introduce Cross-Site scripting elements, this is a good idea. I want my browser to warn me when I'm going into uncertain territory. And if a website owner screwed up and did not renew their certs--to hell with them. We're supposed to accept a security risk because they couldn't get off their asses as renew? I don't think so.
    • by swilver (617741) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:02AM (#24704021)

      Unfortunately, you donot get it at all.

      Those people using self-signed certificates could also simply run a normal HTTP server, and you'd be none the wiser. You donot get warnings for "regular" HTTP sites.

      You are basically saying that a website with an expired certificate or self-signed certificate is WORSE than regular HTTP sites, while in reality they atleast provide you with an encrypted connection and a warning if the certificate changed since the last time you connected to that site (and when that happens, THEN you should get a BIG RED WARNING).

  • by oDDmON oUT (231200) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:37AM (#24703665)

    Try going to multiple Linksys devices (WRT54Gs come to mind) with the same self-signed certificate.

    This is what you'll see:

    You have received an invalid certificate. Please contact the server administrator or email correspondent and give them the following information:

    Your certificate contains the same serial number as another certificate issued by the certificate authority. Please get a new certificate containing a unique serial number.

    (Error code: sec_error_reused_issuer_and_serial)

    You'll only be able to set up an exception for the first one, the rest of them... so sorry so sad... unless you manually dump the certificate each time.

    FF2 did not have this "feature", you could set multiple exceptions and not have to worry about it again.

    Total PITA if you're working with residential users.

    • by bunratty (545641) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:48AM (#24703817)
      Why doesn't Linksys provide the certificate used to sign the certificates on all those routers? Then you could add that certificate to your root certificates and no longer get any warnings at all. It looks to me like Linksys dropped the ball on this one. Perhaps the changes to Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7 will help companies get more serious about ensuring security.
  • by volxdragon (1297215) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:38AM (#24703677)

    If you EVER want to combat man in the middle attacks and phishing sites, this is the best solution. Sites whining that people are being scared away??!? Get a fucking grip, and get a real certificate from a real certificate authority so your users can actually trust you. People/companies are cheap and lazy, and unfortunately this leads to a whole host of problems...keeping your certificate legitimate and up to date should be no different than taking care of your insurance or other critical infrastructure.

  • by txoof (553270) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:39AM (#24703685) Homepage

    Obviously, self signing is meaningless for anonymous strangers. It works just fine for you and your friends/colleagues, but not for anyone outside your immediately trusted group.

    What are the free alternatives to VeriSign's hefty [verisign.com] fees? Some kind of community effort to create trust, much like PGP key signing seems like it would be a good solution.

    Besides being expensive, it looks like any shmo can register with verisign and then conduct all sorts of questionable practices behind their cert. It doesn't look like there's any sort of vetting in the process. I didn't complete the signup process, but it looked like once they had my money, they'd send me a certificate. While the connection is secure, that doesn't tell me a darn thing about what they are going to do with my data, or weather or not they're going to try something malicious.

  • No Excuses (Score:5, Insightful)

    by allcar (1111567) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:41AM (#24703715)
    Fundamentally, the people at fault here are the so-called professionals who allow their certificates to expire. Why should I trust their site's security if they can't manage a simple administration function like that. Thawte and Verisign provide you with enough reminders that your certs are about to expire, so you don't even need to diarise it yourself.
    I do have more sympathy with self-signed certificates.There is no excuse for corporates to be using them, but for small, non-profit sites, self-signed is understandable. Mozilla could help this situation by providing support for CACert [cacert.org] and similar organisations, by including their signing certs in their browsers, by default.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Minwee (522556)

      Actually it's CACert [mozilla.org] who could help this situation by working with Mozilla to have their CA included by default. That story has been dragging on for years with no end in sight.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      StartSSL [startssl.com] provides free certificates, and they're included in Firefox.

  • GOOD! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nweaver (113078) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:41AM (#24703727) Homepage

    Conditioning the users to accept self-signed certs is a BAD thing.

    I think self-signing is great for HTTP and with SSH-style leap of faith. But self signed is far less useful than a real cert (because even when social engineered, a real cert allows you to say "registrar X f-ed up".) for HTTPS. And conditioning users to accept self-signed certs for HTTPS is a mistake.

  • expected behaviour (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AndyST (910890) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:44AM (#24703751)

    This way of handling websites with expired or self-signed SSL certificates is bound to scare away a lot of inexperienced users, no matter how legitimate the website is.

    Well that's the point. The certificate is not valid and there is no way to tell the website is legitimate. If one would insist on using TLS/SSL for HTTP with a self-signed certificate, have users install your own CA keys you gave them through another secure channel, or at least let them check the fingerprint. Nobody keeps you from doing that. It's sad that some of these things are so widely misunderstood that it actually reduces privacy and security:

    • login forms on http: URI, posted to https: URI. Please, the website should identify first.
    • Session Cookies which are sent for both secure and unsecure connections.
    • people asking me to sign their openPGP keys they sent via e-mail wondering why I call them in return to verify the fingerprint. (This guy had a Ph.D. in computer science and after a heated exchange on the phone and e-mail I just gave up. He hates me ever since.)

    The new behavior of Firefox 3 is not a problem, it's people failing to security-enable their website the right way.

  • by MosesJones (55544) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:48AM (#24703823) Homepage

    This is a switch of the "Cancel/Allow [youtube.com]" Mac/PC ad.

    Here we have FF3 saying

    "You have tried to access a secure site with a dodgy certificate, Cancel or Allow?"

    IE meanwhile troops on regardless giving a better "user experience"

    Oh until the machine goes down because the site was a trojan site using a self-signed certificate.

    The issue here isn't that Firefox is making this hard, its that ANYONE ever made this easy. If a site has an expired certificate then that would worry me as it implies their IT support is a bit dodgy. If someone wants my credit card details and is using a self-signed certificate then I'm VERY worried.

    There are functional issues (the duplicate cert problems of Linksys has been mentioned here) that should be addressed. But the basic problem of warning users very strongly that a site is self-signed or has an expired certificate is a good thing.

    I'm using Firefox, I'm on a Mac and this problem just hasn't irritated me the way that Vista does because this does it when there is a REAL problem caused by a 3rd party, not a potential problem caused by me hitting a button. Expired or self-signed certs are a real 3rd party problem, not a scare story.
     

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by illumin8 (148082)

      IE meanwhile troops on regardless giving a better "user experience"

      IE does not "troop on regardless." It gives a similar nasty looking warning, as well it should.

  • As a Safari user (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tibor the Hun (143056) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:49AM (#24703833)

    As a Safari user, i find that reading mainstream media and "security researchers" fucking hurts my head.
    First Safari is bad because it doesn't have anti-phishing.
    Then FireFox is bad because because it throws a fit on un-signed certificates.
    WTF do they all recommend? Exploder?

    I guess it all fits with the flow of uneducated American populace, too ignorant to learn to use a computer properly, so "Security Experts" need to be babysitting them.

    (for those of you wondering why I use Safari, it's because of its superb in page find feature.)

  • Let's complain about how easy it is for you to navigate to a malicious page in IE and get malware on your PC.

    Seriously people, this isn't a huge deal. Err on the side of security rather than the other side, I would say.

    I think Firefox's solution is the best we can hope for. If you or me can get a self-signed cert, a phishing site author certainly can. Then all of a sudden if Firefox were to accept self-signed certs, phishing sites over HTTPS look legitimate, and they look the same as every other HTTPS site that shelled out $$$ to get their certs signed by a trusted root authority. Hell it doesn't even cost $$$, there are a few root authorities that'll sign certs for free, and one is accepted by Firefox (I forget the name). So that's always an option. If you don't like adding exceptions to your own pages, get on Google and figure out how to fix it!

  • by elfguy (22889) on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:57AM (#24703929) Homepage

    SSL Certificate hijacking is a real issue so it should not be underestimated. Users should not be able to just dismiss a warning dialog like they can do with IE. However I do think self signed certs shouldn't be discriminated this way. Learn more with presentation #11 here:

    http://www.securitypresentations.com/#11 [securitypr...ations.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2008 @08:58AM (#24703951)

    Before all the security fanatics start telling everyone to "just spend ten bucks on a cert"...

    1. Embedded appliances (you know, the hundreds of millions of routers, firewalls, etc.) cannot use an authority cert. The choice is between self-signed and no encryption only, and Firefox is pushing manufacturers towards the less secure option.

    2. Typically, you first encounter a self-signed cert in a secure context (for example, setting up such an appliance by plugging it directly into your PC and visiting the web interface). After that, all you care about is whether the cert changes. The whole man-in-the-middle thing is NOT a guaranteed problem with self-signed certs.

    3. Real cert authorities are not the invulnerable swiss banks everyone thinks they are. They can and have issued certs when they shouldn't have. And that isn't just new certs; last week there was a story about a Firefox-trusted cert authority that issued a Microsoft live.com domain cert to someone. So those who think authority certs are secure are deluding themselves.

    In the end, Firefox's current behavior does not promote security; it simply makes life hard and annoying for legitimate users.

  • I'm going to assume that there is a sizable minority here who doesn't actually understand what is going on with SSL certificates and why they are important. So here goes:

    Assume you're trying to access your online bank, and that Dr Evil is your ISP's systems admin (or anyone else who can get between you and your bank).

    In the normal course of things, your web browser makes an SSL connection to your bank, validates the certificate is signed by one of the certificate authorities that your browser trusts and you're good to go.

    The certificate authority check is there to prevent Dr. Evil from setting up a server in between you and your bank. In that scenario, you would connect to Dr Evil, get his key, encrypt your username and password using his key. Dr Evil then decodes the user/password and sends it onto the bank in another connection. Then he bridges the two connections, walks off with your password and you're none the wiser.

    Because of SSL certificates, if Dr Evil did try it, you'd get the nasty certificate warning, and hopefully not give Dr Evil your banking passwords.

    Min

  • by w4rl5ck (531459) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:07AM (#24704095) Homepage

    which is the problem here.

    FF2 had a warning message about self-signed certificates, too. The problem in my opinion is the way it is presented, and how the "exception" thing is handled from a user perspective.

    In FF2, you simply had to accept the certificate, and "go" for it. So far so good. Warning message, "OK, I know what I'm doing".

    Downside: anyone just klicks "yes" in ANY message, so where's the security in that?

    Anyway, with the new scheme, it's simply annoying, even if you know what you are doing. I.e. I need to use some development installations of software for testing purposes, and of course, whe have to test the ssl-encrypted parts, too. Buying certificates for all this development setups would be stupid (like, throwing the money out of the window).

    Why do I have to click FOUR times to simply say "this site is OK for me", while I only have to click once for popups, for auto-fillin for login data, and so on?

    Just one simple "add an exception" that does the trick WITHOUT forcing me to:

    - *manually* (!!!) FETCH and DISPLAY the certificate before I can accept it (hell, I KNOW it's valid, I generated it myself! And a "normal user" can't understand ANYTHING in the certificate details, so what's the point? And no, they won't "learn", either!)
    - yes, I'm sure, I want an exception
    - yes, for real, I ...

  • Oh my god. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Vexorian (959249) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:12AM (#24704169)
    What the heck is wrong with mozilla? Everybody knows convenience of web developers is more important than actually making the whole SSL stuff worth it. Who cares if allowing sites to sign their own certificates makes the whole SSL thing extremely pointless? What's important here is the webmasters' comfort.
  • by unity100 (970058) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:38AM (#24704539) Homepage Journal
    when i criticized it and said it will hurt a lot of small businesses and communities, some people came up with darwinian shit like 'if they are not able to afford a $100 buck a year ssl, they dont deserve to be on the internet anyway'.

    and look now, even the biggest can be affected by this overzealous, self righteous implementation in ff3, not only small businesses and communities who are 'so easily forfeitable'.

    i wonder what those people have to say now.
  • by itsdapead (734413) on Friday August 22, 2008 @09:43AM (#24704625)

    I know using actual evidence is unfashionable, but lets try connecting to a self-signed https page from some popular browsers, shall we?

    Firefox 3

    Secure Connection Failed

    phishing.itsdapead.org uses an invalid security certificate.
    The certificate is not trusted because the issuer certificate is unknown.
    The certificate is only valid for mycomputer.itsdapead.com

    • This could be a problem with the server's configuration, or it could be someone trying to impersonate the server.
    • If you have connected to this server successfully in the past, the error may be temporary, and you can try again later.

    [Or you can add an exception]

    Internet explorer 7:

    There is a problem with this website's security certificate.
    The security certificate presented by this website was not issued by a trusted certificate authority.
    The security certificate presented by this website was issued for a different website's address.
    Security certificate problems may indicate an attempt to fool you or intercept any data you send to the server.
    We recommend that you close this webpage and do not continue to this website.

    Click here to close this webpage.
    Continue to this website (not recommended).

    Or Safari 3:

    The certificate for this website was signed by an unknown certifying authority. You might be connecting to a website that is pretending to be "phishing.itsdapead.org" which could put your confidential information at risk. Would you like to connect to the website anyway?

    How about Opera 9.5?

    The server's certificate chain is incomplete, and the signer(s) are not registered. Accept?

    [Help] [Reject] [Approve]

    Sorry, I don't believe that - Opera is meant to be good isn't it? Let's try again: (ahem) Opera 9.5?

    The server's certificate chain is incomplete, and the signer(s) are not registered. Accept?

    [Help] [Reject] [Approve]

    Ye gods - I wasn't imagining it! Deary, deary me...

    Now, from where I'm standing:

    1. All browsers show minor variations on the same behavior - so why is Firefox singled out?
    2. For my money, Safari does slightly better at explaining the issue with an appropriate level of detail. Marginally.
    3. Only IE and Firefox have bothered to warn me that, not only is the cert self-signed but the URLs don't match
    4. Opera's risible message was presumably written by someone who expects all internet users to have a CS degree. Hope that's fixed in later versions.

    Plus, Firefox is pushing the extended info scheme whereby the certificate holder's name gets displayed on the info bar (as opposed to the old scheme where ploughing through the certificate might reveal the holder's name), which should be a good thing.

  • by lord_sarpedon (917201) on Friday August 22, 2008 @11:34AM (#24706453)

    If you visit a website with either an expired or a self-signed SSL certificate, Firefox 3 will prevent the page from loading, to protect your secure cookies and personal info from what may be a malicious page. Instead it will display a warning... To get past this warning page, users have to go through four different steps before they can be understood to have declared intent to accept the possible consequences, which from a usability standpoint is far from ideal - the users are much more accustomed to signing their death warrants by pressing a single 'Allow' button, so multiple steps for an extremely rare security warning is heretical. This way of handling websites with expired or self-signed SSL certificates is bound to scare away a lot of inexperienced users, who, with their extensive knowledge of cryptography and public key infrastructure, really need not be intimidated with facts and scary words.

    This is quite obviously a debate among morons. I'm glad firefox is doing it right.

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