SSL and Malicious Hardware/Software

Leichter, Jerry leichter_jerrold at
Tue Apr 29 10:57:42 EDT 2008

On Mon, 28 Apr 2008, Ryan Phillips wrote:
| Matt's blog post [1] gets to the heart of the matter of what we can
| trust.
| I may have missed the discussion, but I ran across Netronome's 'SSL
| Inspector' appliance [2] today and with the recent discussion on this
| list regarding malicious hardware, I find this appliance appalling.
It's not the first.  Blue Coat, a company that's been building various
Web optimization/filtering appliances for 12 years, does the same thing.
I'm sure there are others.

| Basically a corporation can inject a SSL Trusted CA key in the
| keystore within their corporate operating system image and have this
| device generate a new server certificate to every SSL enabled website,
| signed by the Trusted CA, and handed to the client.  The client does a
| validation check and trusts the generated certificate, since the CA is
| trusted.  A very nice man-in-the-middle and would trick most casual
| computer users.
| I'm guessing these bogus certificates can be forged to look like the
| real thing, but only differ by the fingerprint and root CA that was
| used to sign it.
| What are people's opinions on corporations using this tactic?  I can't
| think of a great way of alerting the user, but I would expect a pretty
| reasonable level of privacy while using an SSL connection at work.
I'm very uncomfortable with the whole business.

Corporations will of course tell you it's their equipment and is there
for business purposes, and you have no expectation of privacy while
using it.  I can understand the issues they face:  Between various
regulatory laws that impinge on the white-hot topic of "data leakage"
and issues of workplace discrimination arising out of questionable
sites, they are under a great deal of pressure to control what goes over
their networks.  But if monitoring everything is the stance they have to
take, I would rather that they simply block encrypted connections

As this stuff gets rolled out, there *will* be legal issues.  On the
one hand, the whole industry is telling you "HTTPS to a secure web
site - see that green bar in your browser? - is secure and private".
On the other, your employer is doing a man-in-the-middle attack and,
without your knowing it, reading your discussions with your doctor.
Or maybe gaining access to your credit card accounts - and who knows
who in the IT department might be able to sneak a peak.

Careful companies will target these appliances at particular sites.
They'll want to be able to prove that they aren't watching you order
your medications on line, lest they run into ADA problems, for example.

It's going to be very interesting to see how this all plays out.  We've
got two major trends crashing headlong into each other.  One is toward
tighter and tighter control over what goes on on a company's machines
and networks, some of it forced by regulation, some of it "because we
can".  The other is the growing technological workarounds.  If I don't
like the rules on my company's network, I can buy over-the-air broadband
service and use it from my desk.  It's still too expensive for most
people today, but the price will come down rapidly.  Corporate IT will
try to close up machines to make that harder and harder to do, but at
the same time there's a growing push for IT to get out of the business
of buying, financing, and maintaining rapidly depreciating laptops.
Better to give employees a stipend and let them buy what they want -
and carry the risks.
							-- Jerry

| Regards,
| Ryan
| [1]
| [2]

The Cryptography Mailing List
Unsubscribe by sending "unsubscribe cryptography" to majordomo at

More information about the cryptography mailing list