Forging SSL Certificates
We already knew that MD5 is a broken hash function. Now researchers have successfully forged MD5-signed certificates:
Molnar, Appelbaum, and Sotirov joined forces with the European MD5 research team in mid-2008, along with Swiss cryptographer Dag Arne Osvik. They realized that the co-construction technique could be used to simultaneously generate one normal SSL certificate and one forged certificate, which could be used to sign and vouch for any other. They purchased a signature for the legitimate certificate from an established company that was still using MD5 for signing, and then applied the legitimate signature to the forged certificate. Because the legitimate and forged certificates had the same MD5 value, the legitimate signature also marked the forged one as acceptable.
This isn’t a big deal. The research is great; it’s good work, and I always like to see cryptanalytic attacks used to break real-world security systems. Making that jump is often much harder than cryptographers think.
But SSL doesn’t provide much in the way of security, so breaking it doesn’t harm security very much. Pretty much no one ever verifies SSL certificates, so there’s not much attack value in being able to forge them. And even more generally, the major risks to data on the Internet are at the endpoints — Trojans and rootkits on users’ computers, attacks against databases and servers, etc — and not in the network.
I’m not losing a whole lot of sleep because of these attacks. But — come on, people — no one should be using MD5 anymore.
EDITED TO ADD (12/31): While it is true that browsers do some SSL certificate verification, when they find an invalid certificate they display a warning dialog box which everyone — me included — ignores. There are simply too many valid sites out there with bad certificates for that warning to mean anything. This is far too true:
If you’re like me and every other user on the planet, you don’t give a shit when an SSL certificate doesn’t validate. Unfortunately, commons-httpclient was written by some pedantic fucknozzles who have never tried to fetch real-world webpages.