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GlobalSign suspends the issuance of SSL certificates for security reasons

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Sep. 7, 2011

GlobalSign said earlier today that it has suspended the issuance of SSL security certificates as a precaution in the wake of unverified statements by a hacker linked to various security attacks on Comodo and DigiNotar.

The hacker used pastebook last March to claim responsibility for various attacks against Comodo that allowed the issuance of fake SSL certificates.

After months of silence, the individual also claimed responsibility this week for the DigiNotar hack and bragged that he was still able to create bogus SSL certificates after compromising systems at 4 other certificate issuance authorities.

He claimed to be an Iranian working alone with no connections to the Iranian government, and then named one of the compromised security certificate issuer as GlobalSign.

But the hacker didn't provide any proof that GlobalSign had been compromised nor did he name the three other supposed companies that were involved in the attacks.

The individual's latest post suggests that his claimed hack against GlobalSign was ultimately thwarted. "GlobalSign was lucky enough-- I already connected to their HSM, got access to their HSM, sent my request but lucky Eddy (StartCom CEO Eddy Nigg) was sitting behind HSM and was doing manual verification at the same time I did that."

GlobalSign has responded to the accusation by suspending the publication of digital certificates while it investigates the said claims and audits the security of its systems. The company then apologized for the inconvenience to its users while giving no immediate indication on when it might be able to restore services.

On September 5th the hacker previously confirmed to have hacked several Comodo resellers, and then claimed responsibility for the recent DigiNotar hack. In his message, he also referred to having access to four further high profile Certificate Authorities, and named GlobalSign as one of the four.

"GlobalSign takes this claim very seriously and is currently investigating. As a responsible certificate authority, we have decided to temporarily suspend the issuance of all SSL certificates until the investigation is complete. We will post updates as frequently as possible," said the company statement on its website.

The company's bold decision contrasts sharply with delays in getting to the root of the problem or going public by DigiNotar after it confirmed its systems had been compromised, to say nothing about the shockingly insecure state of its systems prior to the attack.

Forged certificates created the mechanism to pose as the targeted websites as part of either man-in-the-middle or of various phishing attacks. On Aug. 30, forged SSL credentials were also used to spy on 300,000 Iranian internet users, according to authentication lookup logs on DigiNotar's systems, and separate evidence from Trend Micro.

The hacker posted portions of what purports to be the offending library from systems run by an Italian Comodo reseller to pastebin in order to substantiate claims he was behind the Comodo forged SSL certificate hack back in March.

Additionally, he also signed a copy of Windows calculator using the private key of a fraudulently-issued Google digital certificate obtained via the Comodo hack.

This is solid evidence and contrasts with the lack of proof supplied for other hacks claimed by the hacker. He then supplied the supposedly admin password of DigiNotar's network in follow-up posts this week, but has yet to supply any evidence that would suggest GlobalSign is compromised.

Security watchers, including Sophos, have praised GlobalSign for forgoing an income stream in order to properly investigate what may turn out to be unsubstantiated claims.

In other internet security news

Email spam, nasty viruses, loss of sensitive corporate information and fear of employees messing around doing absolutely nothing productive on Twitter or Facebook are the main reasons that most employers enumerate for blocking social media websites in the workplace.

And some say it could be stopping them from benefiting of new collaborative technologies, says ClearSwift Research. Of course, most employers don't agree with that statement.

ClearSwift surveyed 1,530 employees and 905 company managers in firms across the globe about social media in the workplace.

The survey revealed that about 59.8 percent of employers worried that giving their employees free access to social sites would bring in email spam, viruses and worms, 49 percent feared the loss of confidential data through employee carelessness, or hacking at 45 percent, while many also worried that it had a negative impact on productivity (40 percent) and posed a threat of reputational damage to the company if used inappropriately (37 percent).

Overall, 91 percent of companies in the United Kingdom said that concerns about security and data loss were preventing technology adoption.

ClearSwift is an information security company and stated that this caution was holding companies back from the significant advantages of social media. According to the survey, these include improving internal communication, making employees happy, keeping people up to date with new information and improving contact with clients.

"Successful use of Web 2.0 is still seen as critical to future success by both groups, and there is ongoing investment in this area," the report stated. "Technology adoption is, however, being hampered by security concerns, with high-profile data loss incidents generating scepticism about new collaboration technologies."

To keep tabs on staff Internet utilization, employers used a range of tactics-- 71 percent issued a best practice policy on internet use, 68 percent said they monitored employee internet activity and 56 percent totally blocked access to certain social networking sites in the workplace.

But ClearSwift's survey suggested that blocking or clamping down on social media made staff uneasy and a bit sad. "On average, employees feel disconnected from the risks of Web 2.0. They have little sense of what they are being protected from, and therefore respond negatively to monitoring and security measures. Since they see little rationale for blocking and monitoring, they are likely to disconnect from their employers if policies are perceived as unreasonable."

In particular, younger employees found social media bans at work difficult to deal with. Only 35 percent of 18 to 24 year olds and 44 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds would happily stay at a job if they found their employer's social media policy too restrictive.

And about 43 percent of companies had actually experienced a security incident resulting from employees using social media sites.

In other internet security news

SpamHaus says it has finally won in a long-running U.S. court case against it by e360 Insight, an email spammer it blacklisted for spamming over five years ago.

In 2006, e360 Insight took a lawsuit against SpamHaus in the United States over the blacklisting of its operations. SpamHaus, which is based in the United Kingdom, argued on the advice of e360's lawyers that it was outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.

Judge Charles Kocoras allowed the case against SpamHaus to proceed despite this and awarded a default judgment in favor of e360 Insight for a whopping $11.7 million at the time.

The default judgment was used by e360 Insight in a failed attempt to pressure ICANN into removing SpamHaus' domain records. Judge Kocoras ruled the sanction was too broad and rejected the bid.

The original judgment was then appealed and sent back to another district court for a second hearing, where much reduced damages of $27,000 were awarded on Sep. 1st, two years after e360 Insight filed for bankruptcy, citing the legal cots of fighting the case as one of the reasons for the failure of the business.

The defunct firm was characterized by SpamHaus as a Chicago-based one-man bulk email marketing firm. e360 Insight, which was owned by David Linhardt, allegedly spam vertized via junk mail messages that violated the U.S. CAN SPAM Act.

SpamHaus' lawyers appealed for a second time to argue that the damages awarded against the anti-spam organization were still too high. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of SpamHaus on Friday, reducing damages to the token value of $3 and ordering e360 Insight to pay SpamHaus' defense costs.

The ruling criticises e360 Insight's conduct throughout the case, particularly for its failure to come up with any evidence for the supposedly astronomical financial losses SpamHaus's actions had caused it to suffer and for repeatedly failing to file legal papers on time.

By failing to comply with its basic discovery obligations, a party can acquire defeat from the jaws of certain victory. All that e360 needed to do was to provide a reasonable estimate of the harm it suffered from SpamHaus's conduct.

Instead, e360 engaged in a pattern of multiple delays that ultimately cost it the testimony of all but one witness with any personal knowledge of its damages. That lone witness lost all credibility when he painted a wildly unrealistic picture of e360's losses.

Having failed at its opportunity to present its case, e360 must content itself with nominal damages on each of its claims, and nothing more. "We VACATE the judgment of the district court and REMAND this matter with instructions to enter judgment for the plaintiffs in the amount of three dollars," said the court decision.

Goldman concludes that the SpamHaus case illustrates that courts are ultimately likely to favour filtering services and ISPs rather than bulk-mailing firms in cases involving spam blacklisting.

"Overall, SpamHaus ended up traveling the long road and ultimately defeating e360, but it's nice to see it prevail. As the Holomaxx vs Yahoo and Microsoft cases indicate, lawsuits brought by emailers against ISPs or filtering services face a long and uphill road, which should lead to a dead end," he writes.

This is of course a strong victory for all IPSs and hosting companies, and a losing day for spammers.

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Source: GlobalSign.

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