Man-in-the-Middle Attacks Against Browser Encryption
Last week, a story broke about how Nokia mounts man-in-the-middle attacks against secure browser sessions.
The Finnish phone giant has since admitted that it decrypts secure data that passes through HTTPS connections—including social networking accounts, online banking, email and other secure sessions—in order to compress the data and speed up the loading of Web pages.
The basic problem is that https sessions are opaque as they travel through the network. That’s the point—it’s more secure—but it also means that the network can’t do anything about them. They can’t be compressed, cached, or otherwise optimized. They can’t be rendered remotely. They can’t be inspected for security vulnerabilities. All the network can do is transmit the data back and forth.
But in our cloud-centric world, it makes more and more sense to process web data in the cloud. Nokia isn’t alone here. Opera’s mobile browser performs all sorts of optimizations on web pages before they are sent over the air to your smart phone. Amazon does the same thing with browsing on the Kindle. MobileScope, a really good smart-phone security application, performs the same sort of man-in-the-middle attack against https sessions to detect and prevent data leakage. I think Umbrella does as well. Nokia’s mistake was that they did it without telling anyone. With appropriate consent, it’s perfectly reasonable for most people and organizations to give both performance and security companies that ability to decrypt and re-encrypt https sessions—at least most of the time.
This is an area where security concerns are butting up against other issues. Nokia’s answer, which is basically “trust us, we’re not looking at your data,” is going to increasingly be the norm.