Facebook Apps hosted by Heroku used for viral Twitter phishing attack

Netcraft blocked a Twitter phishing site being served from multiple Facebook Applications on 6th June. Visitors to the Facebook applications were requested to enter their Twitter credentials in order to view a "Twitter Video" application. On submission of the fake Twitter login form, the user is redirected to YouTube.

Links to the phishing attack were spread via both public tweets and direct messages. A Twitter direct message can only be sent to and from users who are following each other which lends credence to the message and the link it contains. The message entices the recipient to visit the fraudulent Facebook application: "I'm turning off my page if no one comes farward [sic] regarding this. https://apps.facebook.com/165922313586222".

Facebook — a trusted website which is served over HTTPS — is a useful medium for a fraudster; a Facebook user may be accustomed to seeing legitimate third-party authorisation forms on the social network making a fake login form all the more convincing. Netcraft has also observed similar attacks targeting Facebook itself which are being spread via Facebook statuses.

Twitter phishing via Facebook Apps and Twitter Direct messages

Twitter phishing via Facebook Apps and Twitter direct messages

Facebook Apps are not hosted on Facebook servers, instead they are hosted by a third party provider. The Facebook Apps involved in this phishing attack were hosted on Heroku and included on facebook.com via an iframe. In September 2011 Facebook partnered with Heroku, simplifying the process of setting up a new Heroku hosting account and Facebook App down to a few clicks. Heroku provides free accounts which are attractive for fraudsters wishing to host phishing attacks on Facebook.

The Facebook App at Heroku has a further iframe showing the actual fake login form, which is hosted at another hosting provider Joe's Datacenter. Both Facebook and the Facebook App hosted at Heroku are served using HTTPS but the final iframe is not, causing some browsers to display an insecure content warning.

Facebook iframe visualisation

Structure of the phishing attack: the fake twitter login form is included in an iframe within the Heroku-hosted Facebook App. The Facebook App is then included on facebook.com within another iframe.

Internet Explorer 9+ blocks HTTP iframes on HTTPS pages by default as it considers them as Mixed Active Content. Firefox currently hides the padlock when viewing mixed content, but does not block it. Firefox 23, due for release later this month, will automatically block iframes when it introduces Mixed Active Content blocking. In Google Chrome, iframes are currently considered passive rather than active, so the padlock icon displays a warning but the content is not blocked. Chrome 29 will switch to treating iframes as Mixed Active Content and block them by default.

Mixed Active Content Blocking in IE10, Pre-release Firefox Nightly, Pre-release Chromium

Mixed Active Content Blocking in IE10, Pre-release Firefox Nightly, Pre-release Chromium

On 6th June, Netcraft observed the following events (times are GMT). Netcraft had access to both a compromised Twitter account and a second Twitter account which was targeted by the first.

12:00
A Twitter direct message with a link to the phishing attack is received from the compromised account. Netcraft blocks the phishing attack in its Phishing Feed.
19:00
Twitter resets the password on the compromised account: "Twitter believes that your account may have been compromised by a website or service not associated with Twitter. We've reset your password to prevent others from accessing your account". The direct message containing the link to the phishing attack is removed. This is the same email that Twitter sent to 250,000 users in February when it discovered an attack which may have accessed user information.
20:00
Facebook removes the phishing applications Netcraft discovered, but the content is still accessible directly.

Social network credentials are particularly appealing to fraudsters as they have a built-in method to spread the attack without further involvement from the fraudster. Some features, such as attached third-party applications, can make a compromised account even more valuable to a fraudster. Authentication forms of the type imitated in this attack are common and train users to expect to see social media login forms triggered from websites other than that of the social network itself. Despite this attack asking for Twitter credentials within a Facebook App, the fraudster was still able to gather twitter account credentials and use them to further spread the attack using twitter direct messages and tweets.

You can protect yourself against phishing attacks by installing Netcraft's Anti-Phishing Extension. You can help protect the internet community by reporting potential phishing sites to Netcraft by email to scam@netcraft.com or at http://toolbar.netcraft.com/report_url. Netcraft can also help protect both brand owners and hosting companies.

Phishing attack hosted on police site with an SSL certificate

The Malaysian government's Police Portal (Johor Contingent) is currently hosting a phishing attack against PayPal on its secure website https://www.polisjohor.gov.my (Site Report). Phishing sites using SSL certificates can piggyback on the trust instilled by browser indicators, such as the padlock icon, to trick potential victims into revealing sensitive information such as their username and password. The SSL certificate used for this phishing attack is irrevocable in some major browsers including Firefox (due to the lack of an OCSP URL in the certificate) and Safari (which doesn't check revocation by default).

A phishing site targeting PayPal hosted on the Malaysian Police's web site which is available over HTTPS.

Fraudsters often use a compromised third party website to host their phishing attack rather than obtaining web hosting directly. By compromising an existing trusted website the fraudster can avoid paying for a potentially suspicious domain name or SSL certificate himself. For example, registering or obtaining an SSL certificate for paypaal.com could draw unwanted attention if the registrar or SSL certificate authority is already conscious of the risk posed by this type of domain name.

The presence of an SSL certificate on a website hosting a phishing site is far from unusual. In May 2013, Netcraft identified 234 trusted SSL certificates on websites with at least one known phishing site. Of these, 67 were issued by Symantec (including the polisjohor.gov.my certificate) which may not be surprising given its leading position in the SSL certificate market. Comodo and Go Daddy had a similar number of such certificates discovered by Netcraft, 42 and 46 respectively. Extended Validation (EV) certificates could be especially valuable to a fraudster as they are designed explicitly to increase the perceived trustworthiness of websites which have passed the validation process by displaying additional indicators such as green bar. During May 2013, Netcraft identified five EV certificates being used on potentially compromised websites: two signed by Symantec and one each signed by Comodo, DigiCert, and Go Daddy.

The SSL certificate for polisjohor.gov.my was issued by GeoTrust (a Symantec brand) back in 2011 and is valid for several more months. If Symantec wished to revoke the certificate to make the site inaccessible over HTTPS it could do so by updating its Certificate Revocation List or by providing on-demand OCSP responses noting its revocation. As examined by Netcraft recently, the current treatment of revocation in many major browsers leaves some room for improvement: this certificate does not contain an OCSP URL so is irrevocable in Firefox. Even if the CA wanted to, it could not directly prevent further use of the certificate in Firefox. Safari users are left unprotected by default as the revocation checking has to be explicitly enabled.

Netcraft offers Phishing alerts to CAs to provide timely alerts to the CA about potential misuse of a certificate. Having access to timely, professionally validated alerts when phishing attacks occur can allow the CA to provide the first alert of a compromise to the webmaster. Both the CA and the webmaster are then able to respond appropriately to the potential compromise, safeguarding the reputation of both parties.

Would you knowingly trust an irrevocable SSL certificate?

Despite the inconsistent treatment of certificate revocation by browsers, providing reliable revocation information is an integral part of operating a trustworthy certificate authority (CA) and a well-accepted requirement of Mozilla's CA root program. However, there are presently thousands of certificates in use which are irrevocable in some major browsers, and hundreds in those browsers which do everything right.

Without the ability to revoke a certificate, a CA has no control over whether a certificate is accepted by browsers or relied upon for secure communication after its issuance and before its expiry. A compromised private key and certificate in the hands of an attacker could be devastating: he would be able to use the private key to decrypt some intercepted SSL-secured traffic and the certificate to impersonate the targeted site. Even if the CA becomes aware of the problem, they can do nothing about it directly without having to rely on the browser vendor's support. CAs use two main technologies for browsers to check whether a particular certificate has been revoked: using the Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) or looking up the certificate in a Certificate Revocation List (CRL). OCSP provides revocation information about an individual certificate from an issuing CA, whereas CRLs provide a list of revoked certificates and may be received by clients less frequently.

Assessing browser support for the two forms of revocation is complicated by Google Chrome's varying behaviour, depending on the platform, browser settings, and its use of pre-aggregated crlsets which contain revocation information for a limited selection of certificate authorities. Firefox does not automatically download CRLs for non-EV certificates so, by default, must rely on OCSP alone. Both Internet Explorer and Opera are more secure in this context: they support OCSP and CRLs and make suitable checks for all types of certificate. Safari does not make revocation checks at all by default for non-EV certificates and the mobile version does not provide the option to do so. For most Safari users, whether or not a certificate is irrevocable is immaterial — Safari does not check for revocation by default.

Excerpt from Netcraft's site report for https://www.bancagenerali.it showing the lack of any revocation method available.

Netcraft has found hundreds of certificates trusted by major browsers which are effectively irrevocable; that is they do not contain valid entries in the crlDistributionPoints X509 extension or OCSP URLs in the AuthorityInformationAccess extension. There may be appropriate CRLs or OCSP responders available, but there is no standard automated means to discover them. Without these two extensions, there is some chance a browser will use a cached CRL (downloaded after visiting another site using the same intermediate certificate) and have access to revocation information not otherwise available. It is easy, however, to envision many scenarios where this fortunate event hasn't occurred before a person visits a site with a revoked certificate.

The CA/B forum — an organisation of both CAs and browsers — publishes a set of Baseline Requirements (BR), which allow a CA to rely on OCSP stapling for "high-traffic" FQDNs and omit OCSP URLs from the certificate. However, currently there is not a widely supported method for enforcing the use of OCSP stapling. The draft TLS Security Policy extension can contain a must-staple directive, which, if present, will indicate to clients to reject any connection without a stapled OCSP response.

In Netcraft's May 2013 SSL survey, more than 300,000 certificates did not contain an OCSP responder URL and are thus irrevocable in Firefox (except for a handful of hard-coded OCSP responder URLs); of these, almost 9,000 were issued this year. Around 800 did not contain URLs for either revocation method, making them effectively irrevocable.

The table below shows some example certificates which are missing some or all of the URLs pointing to revocation methods.

Example certificateSite rankCertificate AuthorityOCSP serversCertificate Revocation ListsOCSP Stapling enabledSelf-declared BR compliance according to responses to Mozilla
fsgateway.aexp.comAmerican Express (Verizon Business)NoNoNoNot yet compliant
www.bancagenerali.it28,225I.T. Telecom (Verizon Business)NoNoNoNot yet compliant
*.malaga.esFNMTNoNoNoN/A
accounts.google.com7Google Internet Authority (Symantec)NoYesNoCompliant
login.skype.com1,804Microsoft (Verizon Business)NoYesNoNot yet compliant
query.rapidssl.com1,280,616SymantecNoYesNoCompliant
www.faa.gov498,030Verizon BusinessNoYesNoNot yet compliant
www.creditmutuel.deKEYNECTISNoYesNoCompliant
*.mygrants.gov.myAlphaSSL (GlobalSign)NoYesNoPartially compliant

There are a number of certificate authorities which have issued such certificates, including the following:

  • An American Express certificate, issued by their own certificate authority, does not contain URLs for either revocation method nor does it staple an OCSP response, making it totally irrevocable. American Express's certificate authority eventually chains up to GTE CyberTrust (now Verizon Business). This certificate was issued before the effective date of the CA/B forum's Baseline Requirements.
  • Google Internet Authority, a subordinate CA of Equifax (now Symantec), does not include OCSP responder URLs in any of its certificates making the certificates effectively irrevocable in Firefox except by action by the browser vendor. Even if Google were to use OCSP stapling (which it does not appear to do — at least on some popular sites) people using Firefox would be no better off as support by default is still in the pipeline. The lack of OCSP URLs may be a conscious decision by Google to reduce the performance penalty of using SSL. The risk posed by not performing this check is not theoretical as one of Google's CRLs contains 7 serial numbers for certificates which were revoked for 'Key Compromise', an event which can't be dealt with directly by Google for users of Firefox.
  • A number of other certificate authorities have issued certificates without OCSP responder URLs this year, including Symantec, Verizon Business, GlobalSign, Microsoft, and KEYNECTIS. The original Baseline Requirements document — effective from 1 July 2012 — stated that there MUST be at least one OCSP URL in the AuthorityInformationAccess extension.
  • Several recently-issued irrevocable certificates violate other Baseline Requirements. For example many certificates also have RSA keys shorter than 2048-bits expiring beyond the end of this year — the CA will not be able to revoke them effectively on 1st January 2014 as is required. I.T. Telecom (which is a subordinate CA of Verizon Business) and FMNT (the Spanish Royal Mint) are the worst offenders, having issued totally irrevocable certificates with short public keys. Some major CAs have also signed certificates with short public keys and only CRL revocation available including Symantec and Verizon Business.

None of the example certificates mentioned above responded with a valid OCSP response stapled, so the limited exception allowed in the Baseline Requirements for high-traffic FQDNs isn't applicable.

Whilst the majority of certificates issued by major CAs are revocable in line with the Baseline Requirements, browser vendors could consider enforcing the most security-critical requirements in the browser itself, raising the bar for all certificate authorities. Browser vendors are somewhat limited in the available methods to sanction or remove their trust in widely used CAs: straightforward revocation of intermediates or root certificates runs the risk of disabling a large proportion of secure websites leading users to question not the CAs, but the browser software and the web site they are visiting.

23/05/2013: Edited to correct attribution of Microsoft's CA to Verizon Business.

Amazon Web Services’ growth unrelenting

In September 2012 Netcraft reported that Amazon had become the largest hosting company in the world based on the number of web-facing computers. In the last eight months, the e-commerce company's tally of web-facing computers has grown by more than a third, reaching 158k. The number of websites hosted on these computers has also increased, from 6.8M in September 2012 to 11.6M in May 2013, a 71% increase.

Although Amazon’s main business is still online retail, Amazon Web Services (AWS), its cloud computing division, has been growing in significance. In Amazon's first quarter of 2013 the Other category (which still includes AWS along with other non-retail activity) was just under 5.0% of its revenue, up from 3.2% at the same point in 2011. The first publicly available AWS service was launched in 2004, but it was not until 2006 that Amazon launched its two core services S3 (data storage) and EC2 (per-hour rental of virtual computer instances). Since then, Amazon has been increasing the number of services provided: in 2012 alone, 159 new services and features were released.

Including its retail infrastructure, the number of web-facing computers at Amazon has grown more than thirty-fold in four years: in May 2009, Netcraft found 4,600 Amazon-controlled web-facing computers; in May 2013, Netcraft found 158k web-facing computers on 164k IP addresses. Netcraft estimates the number of computers behind a group of IP addresses by using a variety of heuristics based on the TCP/IP characteristics seen in the HTTP responses gathered. Hosted on those computers, there are more than 11.6M websites (or hostnames) which corresponds to 2.1M websites with unique content (active sites). Despite being the largest hosting provider by number of web-facing computers, it is dwarfed by Go Daddy, the largest hosting provider when considering the number of websites hosted. Go Daddy has 37M websites on just 23k web-facing computers: the high ratio of websites to web-facing computers may be indicative of Go Daddy's role as a registrar, for which it has a large network of holding pages, and its inexpensive shared hosting platform.

EC2 - Elastic Compute Cloud

EC2, provides on-demand virtual-computer instances billed per hour and is currently available from all nine AWS regions. Each region may correspond to multiple physical data centres which are structured into "Availability Zones". The two largest regions, US East (Northern Virginia) and EU West (Ireland), account for more than three-quarters of all EC2 usage as measured by Netcraft. Sydney, the newest AWS region, now accounts for just under 1% of all measured web-facing computers using AWS, having almost tripled in size in the past four months. In total, more than 156k instances power at least one hostname on 3M domains across the internet.

Launched in 2011, the GovCloud (US) region is specifically intended for more sensitive applications that require additional security and compliance with US regulations. As of May 2013, Netcraft found just 27 web-facing computers within the government cloud, some of which power www.grdregistry.org and www.govdashboard.com. Given its intended role, it would not be surprising if a large proportion of the computers used in the region are not web-facing.

Notable EC2 users include Netflix, a DVD rental and video streaming service, Instagram, a photo sharing application now owned by Facebook, and DuckDuckGo, a search engine.

Metric (EC2 Total) February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 Growth (4 month)
Web-facing Computers/Instances 141,960 145,648 152,041 156,225 10%
IP Addresses 144,625 148,837 155,712 160,884 11.2%
Domains 2,788,685 2,810,906 2,996,147 3,061,178 9.8%
Hostnames 9,489,496 9,938,480 10,649,545 10,925,661 15.1%

Many uses of EC2 such as batch data-processing will not be directly measurably over the internet: Netcraft measures publicly visible computers with corresponding DNS entries and which respond to HTTP requests. Netcraft's Web Server Survey is run at Amazon from the Northern Virginia region, so the region may be over-reported due to services like latency based multi region routing which provide differing responses depending on topological location.

Geographic distribution of computers per EC2 region in May 2013

Data Centre (EC2 - Web Facing Computers) February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 Growth (4 month)
Asia Pacific (Singapore) 6,576 6,805 6,998 7,290 10.9%
Asia Pacific (Sydney) 499 739 1,129 1,427 186%
Asia Pacific (Tokyo) 7,342 7,595 8,065 8,601 17.1%
EU West (Ireland) 23,778 24,635 25,326 25,942 9.1%
South America (Sao Paulo) 2,115 2,263 2,396 2,655 25.6%
US East (Northern Virginia) 87,094 88,543 92,426 93,537 7.4%
US West (Northern California) 9,325 9,478 9,715 9,695 4%
US West (Oregon) 5,217 5,573 5,965 7,051 35.2%
GovCloud (Oregon) 14 17 21 27 92.9%

S3 - Simple Storage Service

S3 provides an online file storage service which can be managed programmatically via Amazon's API. Files are logically grouped into containers called buckets which can be made public and accessible over HTTP but default to being private. As with EC2, Netcraft cannot track private use of S3 but is able to survey websites using S3 publicly to serve static files and even entire websites.

Metric (S3 Total) February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 Growth (4 month)
Domains 41,782 42,561 45,721 48,636 16.4%
Hostnames 124,454 127,370 132,962 138,588 11.4%

In May 2013, a total of 139k hostnames were found to be hosted directly on S3, either using a subdomain of s3.amazonaws.com or using a custom CNAME pointing to S3. Of these, 24.7k hostnames, or over 18.5k domains, point to an S3 bucket configured to serve an entire website, as does mediahackers.org. Many more websites are not hosted entirely on S3, but make use of the service to serve static files such as images, stylesheets, or file downloads.

One of the most widely referenced S3 hostnames is used for twitter badges bucket, which was once a common method to display twitter icons on a third-party website. Tumblr, a popular blogging platform recently acquired by Yahoo!, also makes use of S3 to host static media.

CloudFront

CloudFront is a Content Delivery Network which can be used to serve both dynamic and static content from 28 edge locations which are topologically closer to a site's visitors. Caching content reduces the bandwidth and performance requirements on the website's own servers and, by being topologically close to visitors, the latency associated with each HTTP request can be improved.

In the May 2013 survey, more than 63k hostnames were served via CloudFront, more than 60% of which point to an S3 bucket. Amazon uses CloudFront on its own websites, including imdb.com, and also uses it for serving images on Amazon.com. Other than Amazon itself, CloudFront users include: the Toronto Star, a Canadian newspaper, and Pirifrom, the makers of utility program CCleaner, are two of the most visited sites using CloudFront amongst users of the Netcraft Toolbar.

Metric (CloudFront Total) February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 Growth (4 month)
Domains 22,920 24,079 25,264 26,221 14.4%
Hostnames 55,578 57,817 60,475 63,203 13.7%

The number of CloudFront-dedicated IP addresses and computers cannot be easily measured as different results are obtained depending on the location of the request.

Route 53

Route 53, is a managed Domain Name System (DNS) hosting service. Route 53, named for the TCP and UDP port used for the protocol, hosts DNS records which map from human-readable hostnames to IP addresses. Integrated with the rest of AWS, it allows programmatic access to change DNS records in response to changes elsewhere in a customer's infrastructure. As with CloudFront, Amazon have servers providing this service in edge locations outside of its 9 EC2 regions; Route 53 is available from 28 separate locations.


Metric (Route 53 Total) February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 Growth (4 month)
Domains 136,698 146,635 161,619 169,111 23.7%
Hostnames 3,493,986 3,662,195 3,831,910 4,068,053 16.4%

Over the past four months there has been a steady growth in the number of websites using Route 53 to host their DNS records: it now serves DNS records for 169k domains. Busy sites making use of this service include pinterest.com, a social photo-sharing website which is a heavy user of Amazon's infrastructure; MediaFire, a file uploading and sharing service; and ow.ly a URL shortener.

Heroku

Heroku is Platform as a Service (PaaS) provider owned by Salesforce. Whilst not operated by Amazon, it makes heavy use of AWS services, especially EC2. Heroku provides an abstracted managed environment for web developers to deploy applications in a number of different languages. In May 2013, Heroku was serving 70K domains directly (not behind a CDN) across 4,786 computers.

Popular sites using Heroku include www.upworthy.com, a curated news website; help.github.com, a knowledge base for the popular git-based project hosting service; and Absolventa, a German job market.


Metric (Heroku total) April 2013 May 2013 Growth (2 month)
Computers 4,293 4,786 11.5%
IP Addresses 4,408 4,972 12.8%
Domains 65,821 69,781 6%
Hostnames 1,094,578 1,102,663 0.7%

Heroku, as demonstrated in the results from Netcraft's survey, has been available almost exclusively from the Northern Virginia EC2 region. In April, Heroku announced availability of its service in Europe from the AWS EU West region based in Ireland. Only a limited number of Heroku customers have had access to this region during a private beta phase which explains the currently low uptake: only 1% of the computers attributed to Heroku were in the region.


IP Addresses April 2013 May 2013
US East (Northern Virginia) 4,374 4,915
EU West (Ireland) 33 56

Summary

The launch of the new AWS region, hundreds of new services, new partnerships, and multiple price reductions, are a clear indicator of the relentless growth of Amazon Web Services.

Netcraft provides information on the Internet infrastructure, including the hosting industry, and web content technologies. For information on the cloud computing industry including Microsoft Azure, Rackspace Cloud, and Google App Engine, please contact sales@netcraft.com.

How certificate revocation (doesn’t) work in practice

Certificate revocation is intended to convey a complete withdrawal of trust in an SSL certificate and thereby protect the people using a site against fraud, eavesdropping, and theft. However, some contemporary browsers handle certificate revocation so carelessly that the most frequent users of a site and even its administrators can continue using an revoked certificate for weeks or months without knowing anything is amiss. Recently, this situation was clearly illustrated when a busy e-commerce site was still using an intermediate certificate more than a week after its revocation.

SSL Certificates are used to secure communication between browsers and websites by providing a key with which to encrypt the traffic and by providing third-party verification of the identity of the certificate owner. There are varying levels of verification a third-party Certificate Authority (CA) may carry out, ranging from just confirming control of the domain name (Domain Validation [DV]) to more extensive identity checks (Extended Validation [EV]).

However, an SSL certificate — or any of the certificates which form a chain from the server's certificate to a trusted root installed in the browser or operating system — may need to be revoked. A certificate should be revoked when it has had its private key compromised; the owner of the certificate no longer controls the domain for which it was issued; or the certificate was mistakenly signed. An attacker with access to an un-revoked certificate who also has access to the certificate's private key can perform a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack by presenting the certificate to unsuspecting users whose browsers will behave as if they were connecting to a legitimate site.

There are two main technologies for browsers to check the revocation status of a particular certificate: using the Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) or looking up the certificate in a Certificate Revocation List (CRL). OCSP provides revocation information about an individual certificate from an issuing CA, whereas CRLs provide a list of revoked certificates and may be received by clients less frequently. Browser support for the two forms of revocation varies from no checking at all to the use of both methods where necessary.

On 30th April 2013 an intermediate certificate issued to Network Associates — which forms part of the chain from an individual certificate back to a trusted root — was revoked by RSA. The intermediate certificate was used to sign multiple McAfee SSL certificates including one for a busy e-commerce website, www.mcafeestore.com. Its revocation should have prevented access to all of the websites using the intermediate including the online store. However, more than a week later nobody had noticed: no tweets or news articles appeared and the certificate was still in place.

The certificate chain for mcafeestore.com, before it was replaced. The highlighted certificate, NAI SSL CA v1, was revoked on 30th April 2013

The intermediate certificate was revoked by RSA by adding its serial number, 54:99:05:bd:ca:2a:ad:e3:82:21:95:d6:aa:ee:b6:5a, to the corresponding CRL. None of the certificates in the chain provide a URL for OCSP, so using the CRL is the only option available. After the CRL was published, browsers should display an error message and prevent access to the website. The reality is somewhat different, however.

Business as usual in Firefox

Firefox does not download CRLs for websites which use the most popular types of SSL certificate (all types of certificate except EV which is usually displayed with a green bar). Without downloading the CRL, Firefox is happy to carry on as usual; letting people visit the website and transfer sensitive personal information relying on a certificate that is no longer valid. In any case even if OCSP were available, by default Firefox will only check the validity of the server's certificate and not attempt to check the entire chain of certificates (again, except for EV certificates).

No warnings for mobile users either on Android or iOS

Mobile browsing now makes up a significant proportion of internet use. Neither Google Chrome on Android nor Safari on iOS present a warning to the user even after being reset. Safari on iOS does not make revocation checks at all except for Extended Validation certificates and did not make requests for the CRL which would have triggered the revocation error message.

Google Chrome: [left to right] default settings, revocation checks enabled on Windows, and revocation checks enabled on Linux

Google Chrome, by default, does not make standard revocation checks for non-EV certificates. Google does aggregate a limited number of CRLs and distributes this via its update mechanism but, at least currently, it does not list the certificate in question or indeed any of the other certificates revoked in the same CRL. For the majority of Chrome users with the default settings, as with Firefox, nothing will appear to be amiss.

For the security conscious, Google Chrome does have the option to enable proper revocation checks, but in this case the end result depends on the platform. On Windows, Google Chrome can make use of Microsoft's CryptoAPI to fetch the CRL and it correctly prevents access to the site. However, RSA's CRL is not delivered in the conventional way: instead of providing the CRL in a binary format, it is encoded into a text-based format which is not the accepted standard. Mozilla's NSS — which is used by Firefox on all platforms and by Google Chrome on Linux — does not support the format. On Linux, Google Chrome does make a request for the CRL but cannot process the response and instead carries on as normal.

Warning to potential customers when visiting the store at https://www.mcafeestore.com

Microsoft's web browser, Internet Explorer is one of the most secure browsers in this context. It fetches revocation information (with a preference for OCSP, but will fallback to CRLs) for the server's certificate and the rest of the certificate chain and, as a consequence of the revocation check, it prevents the user from making their purchase on www.mcafeestore.com.

Opera preventing access to the website

Along with Internet Explorer, Opera is secure by default: it prevents access to the webpage. Opera checks the entirety of the certificate chain using either OCSP or CRLs where appropriate.

However, even with the most secure browser, the most frequent users of a secure website may be able to continue using a website for weeks or months despite one of the certificates in the chain of trust having been revoked. The CRL used in this case can be cached for up to 6 months, leaving frequent users, who will have a cached copy of the CRL, in the dark about the revocation. Going by previous copies of the CRL, the CRL may have last been generated in January 2013 and valid until July 2013. If that is the case and you have visited any website using the same intermediate certificate your browser will not display any warnings and will behave as if the certificate has not been revoked. However, you need not have visited mcafeestore.com before to have a cached CRL; there were 14 other websites with the same intermediate certificate in Netcraft's latest SSL survey.

As long as six months sounds to miss out on important revocation information, browser vendors in control of the list of trusted CAs allow CRLs to have 12-month validity periods when destined for intermediate certificates. CRLs covering individual, or subscriber, certificates are required to be valid for at most 10 days. By its very nature access to the private key corresponding to an intermediate certificate is more useful to an attacker: he can use the private key to sign a certificate for any website he so chooses rather than having access to just a single site. Browsers do have the ability to distrust certificates if they become aware of the compromise, but they may depend on slow update mechanisms to update the trusted set of certificates.

Whilst it may be expensive for an online store to be using a certificate that should not be valid, the consequences for governmental or banking websites could be more severe. If the certificate, or one of the certificates in the chain, were revoked due to a key compromise and there is an active attacker exploiting the lack of revocation checking in modern browsers, the public could be at risk for an extended period of time. The state of revocation amongst modern browsers is sufficiently fragmented to ensure that the entire concept of revocation is on shaky ground — without consistent behaviour and timely updates, if or when the certificate is finally blocked it is too late.

Netcraft waited until the certificate was replaced before publishing this article.

Live chat used in phishing attack

Early last week, Netcraft blocked a website purporting to offer online support for eBay customers. The website made use of a third-party live chat service provided by Volusion, an e-commerce outfit which also provides both free and premium hosted live chat services. By running a live chat service and asking the right questions, a fraudster could coax an unsuspecting victim into revealing sensitive information in addition to their eBay login credentials.

The agent providing "support" claimed that the chat was accessed by clicking a live chat button in eBay's order confirmation email. When Netcraft attempted to question the legitimacy of the live chat, the agent immediately disconnected. eBay's official live chat service is available to eBay members through a secure page on an ebay.com subdomain and is linked to from the eBay website.

An example fraudulent live chat impersonating eBay (left) and the legitimate version (right); both have valid SSL certificates

An example fraudulent live chat impersonating eBay (left) and the legitimate version (right); both have valid SSL certificates

Later, the site showed a place-holder company logo and the eBay branding had disappeared.

This attack is interesting as several well-known companies outsource their live chat support, including Sky, a British broadcaster and ISP (LivePerson), Western Union (Oracle), and Rackspace (BoldChat). This, combined with a valid SSL certificate, could be convincing enough to deceive people accustomed to seeing third-party domain names for live chat applications. In addition, free or trial deployments can be obtained for these third-party services quickly — some without identification or credit cards — allowing a social engineer to carry out this attack easily and anonymously.

Live chat social engineering is not a novel technique for fraudsters: last December, a replacement Kindle was falsely ordered via the official Amazon live chat by a fraudster with only limited knowledge of the victim. A similar scam was seen in February this year. A forum dedicated to social engineering has a thread allegedly making offers to buy Amazon order numbers, which could be used in future attacks.

Netcraft advises people to never reveal sensitive information such as passwords or PINs in live chats, even if asked. A legitimate company will not require this information. If in doubt, challenge them to verify who they say they are. Only access live chats from companies' own sites: do not access them from third-party websites or emails.

You can protect yourself against the latest phishing attacks by installing Netcraft's Anti-Phishing Extension and help protect the internet community by reporting potential phishing sites to Netcraft by email to scam@netcraft.com or at http://toolbar.netcraft.com/report_url. Netcraft can also help protect both brand owners and hosting companies.