Free domains put Mali back on the map – for phishing

When the African nation of Mali announced that it was going to provide free .ml domains from July, their goal was to put Mali back on the map. It appears they have now succeeded, but perhaps not in the way they had intended — thanks to the free domains, Mali now has the most phishy top-level domain of any country in the world.

Nearly 6% of the .ml domains in Netcraft's survey are currently blocked for hosting phishing sites, making it by far the phishiest TLD. In comparison, the second most phishy TLD, .bt (Bhutan), has only 0.7% of its sites blocked for phishing.

.ml domains can be quickly and easily registered at Freenom, which is owned by the Netherlands-based Freedom Registry. Registrants are required to create an account with a valid email address, and a CAPTCHA is used to try and prevent automated registrations. Domains can be registered for between 1 and 12 months initially, with an unlimited number of renewals. Domains which contain more than 3 characters are free.

It is not surprising to see free domain names being used in phishing attacks, but some TLDs have managed to tackle such fraud with astounding efficacy. The .tk TLD was taken advantage of extensively by phishers in 2011, prompting its registrar, Dot TK (another subsidiary of Freedom Registry), to introduce an anti-abuse API to allow trusted partners to shut down sites that use the .tk ccTLD. This dramatically reduced the average uptime of phishing sites which used .tk domains, making it a less attractive platform for fraudsters. Indeed, .tk does not even appear within the top 50 phishiest TLDs today; however, considering .tk and .ml share the same owner, this makes it somewhat surprising to see .ml being so heavily abused already.


A Taobao (Chinese shopping site) phish using a .ml domain, hosted in the US.

Despite the obvious appeal of a free and easily registered domain name when orchestrating a phishing attack, the phishiest TLDs are not always free, nor easy to register. Back in June, Morocco had the phishiest TLD (.ma), although it has since fallen to 12th place. As well as not being free, the administrative contact for an .ma domain must be established in Morocco; however, people living outside Morocco can still register an .ma domain through third parties.

Netcraft provides services to help protect domain registries, brand owners and hosting companies. You can also 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

Microsoft Achieves World Domination (in OCSP Stapling)

Certificate revocation checking is an essential part of any connection to an SSL site; without it, an attacker can impersonate an SSL site with a compromised certificate until it expires of its own accord — an event which may be 5 years away — even if the issuer of the certificate (the certificate authority, or CA) is made aware of the breach. One of the methods used to check the revocation status, OCSP, requires the browser to make a per-certificate request to the issuing CA as part of the initial connection to an SSL site.

This separate OCSP request can increase the time taken for the browser to connect to an SSL site and imposes a traffic burden on the CA. OCSP stapling is advantageous because it removes the need for a separate request to the CA by bundling the OCSP response with the existing SSL connection.

The proportion of certificates in the July 2013 Netcraft SSL survey served over an SSL connection with a stapled OCSP response.

In the latest Netcraft SSL Survey, more than 22% of certificates were served with a stapled OCSP response. Of those SSL certificates seen with a stapled OCSP response, almost all (96%) were served from computers running Microsoft Windows. OCSP stapling has been enabled by default in IIS since Windows 2008, significantly before its competitors — Apache added support in version 2.4 in February 2012 and nginx added support in version 1.4.0 in April 2013.

Operating System Share
Windows Server 200894.54%
Windows Server 20121.76%
Linux1.39%
Unknown1.25%
Other1.06%

The certificates in the July 2013 Netcraft SSL survey served over an SSL connection with a stapled OCSP response, split by operating system.

More than 99% of the stapled OCSP responses corresponded to a 'good' status, but somewhat surprisingly, there were around 900 responses which corresponded to a revoked status. These include a certificate on a Maybank website (the largest financial institution in Malaysia) and a certificate on the mobile version of marines.com, an official US Marine Corps recruitment website. m.marines.com appears to be load balanced across at least two machines, one of which staples a revoked response, the other uses a different non-revoked certificate.

m.marines.com in Google Chrome (on Windows) and Safari on iOS6.

Browser support for OCSP stapling is patchy and varies with the operating system. As well as on the server-side with IIS, Microsoft's client-side support for OCSP stapling is good: Internet Explorer supports stapling, as does every other browser tested on Windows except Firefox. Firefox does particularly poorly on all platforms, with no support at all for OCSP stapling in the current release, though support is on its way. Google Chrome uses a patched version of NSS (the same library as Firefox) on Linux which does include stapling support. The upgrade from Opera 12 to Opera 15 on Mac OS X removes support for OCSP stapling, perhaps as a side-effect of the move to WebKit (blink), leaving Mac OS X without support for OCSP stapling when using the latest release of any common browser.

Where OCSP stapling may help the most — on mobile networks where latency may be high — there is no support, at least in conventional browsers which make direct requests. Opera Mini, which uses a proxy to compress responses, does make SSL requests which include a request for an OCSP stapled response, but security conscious users may be reticent to trust their SSL encrypted data to Opera (which proxies SSL connections through its servers) in exchange for OCSP stapling.

Browser/OSWindowsLinuxMac OS XiOSAndroid
Google Chrome 28YesYesNoNoNo
Firefox 22NoNoNoN/ANo
Internet Explorer 10YesN/AN/AN/AN/A
Safari 6NoN/ANoNoN/A
Opera 12YesYesYesN/AN/A
Opera 15YesN/ANoN/AN/A
Opera MiniN/AN/AN/AYesYes
Opera MobileN/AN/AN/AN/ANo

CloudFlare is a vocal supporter of OCSP stapling and claims that stapling can improve the time taken to start an SSL connection by up to 30%. CloudFlare’s implementation of OCSP, though, does not consistently provide a stapled OCSP response. Netcraft took 50 random CloudFlare IP addresses seen in the SSL survey and made 50 sequential requests with OCSP stapling enabled after an initial priming request which was discarded.

The number of CloudFlare IP Addresses responding with OCSP stapled grouped by the request number. 50 IP addresses were connected to with openssl s_client -status, the initial request was discarded and then after a 5 second pause, 50 sequential requests were made.

Fewer than 50% of the CloudFlare IP addresses responded with an OCSP response stapled on the first non-discarded connection attempt. Even after 20 requests, the response rate is not consistent, some IP addresses still fail to staple an OCSP response on each and every SSL connection. This inconsistent behaviour may be down to a number of separate machines responding to the same IP address either in different locations, or behind a load balancer.

OCSP stapling, at least in its current form, does not exempt most browsers from all OCSP requests; even if the OCSP response for the certificate of the SSL site itself is stapled, the OCSP responses from the intermediates certificates — the chain of certificates which link the site’s certificate to a trusted certificate embedded in the browser — are not included. Yngve Pettersen, formerly of Opera, has recently authored RFC 6961 defining a standard which is intended to combat some of the problems with the current generation of OCSP stapling.

SSL: Intercepted today, decrypted tomorrow

[September 2013: The Netcraft extension — for Firefox, Google Chrome, and Operanow displays whether or not PFS is supported]

Millions of websites and billions of people rely on SSL to protect the transmission of sensitive information such as passwords, credit card details, and personal information with the expectation that encryption guarantees privacy. However, recently leaked documents appear to reveal that the NSA, the United States National Security Agency, logs very high volumes of internet traffic and retains captured encrypted communication for later cryptanalysis. The United States is far from the only government wishing to monitor encrypted internet traffic: Saudi Arabia has asked for help decrypting SSL traffic, China has been accused of performing a MITM attack against SSL-only GitHub, and Iran has been reported to be engaged in deep packet inspection and more, to name but a few.

The reason that governments might consider going to great lengths to log and store high volumes of encrypted traffic is that if the SSL private key to the encrypted traffic later becomes available — perhaps through court order, social engineering, successful attack against the website, or through cryptanalysis — all of the affected site’s historical traffic may then be decrypted at once. This really would open Pandora’s Box, as on a busy site a single key would decrypt all of the past encrypted traffic for millions of people.

There is a defence against this, known as perfect forward secrecy (PFS). When PFS is used, the compromise of an SSL site's private key does not necessarily reveal the secrets of past private communication; connections to SSL sites which use PFS have a per-session key which is not revealed if the long-term private key is compromised. The security of PFS depends on both parties discarding the shared secret after the transaction is complete (or after a reasonable period to allow for session resumption).

Eavesdroppers wishing to decrypt past communication which has used PFS face a daunting task: each previous session needs to be attacked independently. Even knowing the long-term private key does not help as the session key is not available by simple decryption. Conversely, when SSL connections do not use PFS, the secret key used to encrypt the rest of the session is generated by the SSL site and sent encrypted with the long-term private-public key pair. If this long-term private key is ever compromised all previous encrypted sessions are easily decrypted.

Perfect forward secrecy was invented in 1992, pre-dating the SSL protocol by two years, and consequently one might reasonably have expected that SSL would have made operational use of PFS from the outset. Nevertheless, almost twenty years later, PFS usage is not used by the majority of SSL sites.

The use of PFS is dependent on the negotiation between the browser and the web site successfully agreeing on a PFS cipher suite. One might reasonably expect browsers to do all they can to support PFS cipher suites as PFS confers an advantage in privacy for the browser’s user community, and any PFS performance disadvantages may only be a serious issue at the larger scales found on the server-side. On the other hand, there are only a small number of browsers in widespread use, and if a government wished to maximise its influence in restricting the use of PFS in order to facilitate decryption of recorded encrypted transactions it would start with the web browsers.

Browser support for PFS

Netcraft has tested the cipher suite selection of five major browsers — Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera — against 2.4 Million SSL sites from Netcraft's June SSL Survey. The support for PFS varied significantly between browsers: only a tiny fraction of Internet Explorer's SSL connections operated with PFS; whereas Google Chrome, Opera and Firefox were protected for approximately one third of connections. Safari fared only a little better than Internet Explorer.

The actual cipher suites used when connecting to 2.4 Million SSL sites with the cipher suite settings extracted from each browser. *Opera does not include its TLS 1.2 cipher suites.

Internet Explorer does particularly poorly as it does not support any cipher suite that uses both RSA public keys and non-elliptic-curve DH key exchange, which includes the most popular PFS cipher suite. The PFS cipher suites that IE does support have a lower priority than some of the most commonly supported non-PFS cipher suites. Curiously, IE does support DHE-DSS-AES256-SHA, which uses the rarer DSS authentication method, but not the very popular DHE-RSA-AES256-SHA.

Browser priorityCipher SuiteReal-world usage in SSL Survey
1AES128-SHA63.52%
2AES256-SHA2.21%
3RC4-SHA17.12%
4DES-CBC3-SHA0.41%
5ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA0.08%
6ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA0.21%
7ECDHE-ECDSA-AES128-SHA0.00%
8ECDHE-ECDSA-AES256-SHA0.00%
9DHE-DSS-AES128-SHA0.00%
10DHE-DSS-AES256-SHA0.00%
11EDH-DSS-DES-CBC3-SHA0.00%
12RC4-MD516.46%

Internet Explorer 10's cipher suite ordering and the actual negotiated cipher suite in Netcraft's SSL survey. PFS cipher suites are highlighted in bold and green.

Safari supports many PFS cipher suites but non-elliptic-curve cipher suites are used only as a last resort. As several non-PFS ciphers have a higher priority, web servers respecting the browser's preferences will end up selecting a non-PFS cipher suite even if the web server itself does support some (non elliptic-curve) PFS cipher suites.

Chrome, Firefox, and Opera all do better, preferring PFS cipher suites ahead of non-PFS at any given strength level — for example Opera's preference list starts: DHE-RSA-AES256-SHA, DHE-DSS-AES256-SHA, AES256-SHA, DHE-RSA-AES128-SHA, DHE-DSS-AES128-SHA, AES128-SHA. Netcraft did not include any cipher suites only present in TLS 1.2 which includes many of Opera's PFS cipher suites, so the results for Opera form a lower bound on the number of SSL sites using PFS with Opera.

None of the browsers change their user interface perceptibly to reflect the presence of PFS akin to the way EV certificates are treated to a green address bar. Google Chrome and Opera show the cipher suite used (in popups or dialog boxes), but they rely on a user understanding the implications of wording such as "[..] ECDHE_RSA as the key exchange mechanism".

Web server support for PFS

Despite a browser's best efforts to prefer PFS cipher suites, the key exchange method used is selected by the server and it may either not support any PFS cipher suites or it may prefer to use an alternative cipher suite (and perhaps reasonably so for performance reasons). The use of the Diffie-Hellman key exchange does impose a performance penalty as there is additional computation required to derive the secret key.

Using any browser's cipher suite preference order, at least two-thirds of the SSL connections made in the Netcraft SSL survey did not use a cipher suite with PFS at all.

Connections to 2.4 Million SSL sites in the SSL survey, once for each browser, split by the web server vendor

nginx, an open-source web server originally written by Russian Igor Sysoev, uses strong cipher suites by default, which has caused some to comment on nginx's SSL performance. With the exception of Internet Explorer and Safari, more than 70% of SSL sites using the web server selected a PFS cipher suite when visited with a modern browser.

The usage of PFS amongst SSL sites using Apache is also fair, around two-thirds of the SSL sites it serves use a PFS cipher suite when visited in Firefox, Chrome, or Opera. Conversely, Microsoft's support for PFS cipher suites is notably lacking; both Microsoft IIS and Internet Explorer only rarely use PFS cipher suites — when used together only 111 (0.01%) of SSL connections between IIS and IE used PFS.

Whilst Google uses PFS cipher suites for some Google SSL sites, it appears that many SSL sites hosted on Google App Engine do not.

How is this related to PRISM?

WebsiteInternet ExplorerGoogle ChromeFirefoxSafariOpera
www.facebook.comRC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHA
www.twitter.comRC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHA
www.yahoo.comAES128-SHACAMELLIA256-SHACAMELLIA256-SHAAES128-SHAAES256-SHA
www.google.comECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHAECDHE-RSA-RC4-SHAECDHE-RSA-RC4-SHAECDHE-RSA-RC4-SHARC4-SHA
login.live.comAES128-SHAAES128-SHAAES128-SHAAES128-SHAAES128-SHA
www.aol.comRC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHA
www.apple.comAES256-SHAAES256-SHAAES256-SHAAES256-SHAAES256-SHA
commerce.paltalk.comRC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHA

The negotiated cipher suite for a selection of SSL sites belonging to companies implicated in the PRISM programme. PFS cipher suites are highlighted in bold and green.

Many SSL sites of those companies implicated in the PRISM programme do not use PFS cipher suites when visited in any of the major browsers. Google, however, does use a PFS cipher suite in most browsers, with the notable exception of Opera. If PRISM operates by examining SSL traffic, which has been said to be fairly unlikely given its quoted $20M cost, all of the traffic to these SSL sites (except for Google) could have been compromised if the NSA had access to the private key.

Some other noteworthy SSL sites

WebsiteInternet ExplorerGoogle ChromeFirefoxSafariOpera
www.cloudflare.comECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHAECDHE-RSA-RC4-SHAECDHE-RSA-RC4-SHAECDHE-RSA-RC4-SHARC4-SHA
www.duckduckgo.comRC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHA
www.mega.co.nzRC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHARC4-SHA

The negotiated cipher suite for a selection of SSL sites. PFS cipher suites are highlighted in bold and green.

DuckDuckGo, a search engine, has been prominent in the media since the start of the Snowden revelations due to its privacy policy which promotes anonymity. If the private key used by DuckDuckGo were ever compromised — for example if one of their servers were seized — all previous searches would be revealed where logged traffic is available. DuckDuckGo may be a particularly interesting target for the NSA due to its audience and the small volume of traffic (as compared to Google).

CloudFlare has taken a similar approach to Google using ECDHE RC4 or AES cipher suites, but also leave Opera users without the protection of PFS. One of CloudFlare's options for SSL deployment is 'flexible' SSL which encrypts traffic from the browser to CloudFlare but if the content is not returned from its cache, the connection from CloudFlare to the original website is made without SSL. Rather than attempting to decrypt the encrypted content it may be easier to intercept unencrypted traffic between CloudFlare and the original website.

Mega does not use PFS cipher suites, perhaps a risky move given the history of raids on Megaupload's servers by the US Government. With physical access to the servers, it is not implausible that the private keys of any server could be extracted, even if it is from non-persistent memory.

Conclusions

Conspiracy theorists may be unsurprised that:

  • Microsoft’s support for PFS is conspicuous by its absence across Internet Explorer, IIS, and some of its own web sites. Apple’s support for PFS in Safari is only slightly better.
  • Russia, long-time target of US spies, is the home of the developer of nginx, the web server which uses PFS most often.
  • Almost all of the websites run by companies involved in the PRISM programme do not use PFS.

Whilst conspiracy theorists may delight in speculating on the reasons why PFS isn't ubiquitous, one reason may be web sites' (bona fide) performance concerns: Mavrogiannopoulos reports up to a 3x performance penalty starting an SSL connection using DHE-RSA instead of plain RSA. The lack of clear in-browser notifications of the use of PFS cipher suites may persuade popular SSL sites to forgo the protection PFS offers, which typical users do not notice, to instead improve the web site's performance, which typical users do notice.

Without the support of two major browsers and major websites most internet users are missing out on the security benefits of perfect forward secrecy. Without the protection of PFS, if an organisation were ever compelled — legally or otherwise — to turn over RSA private keys, all past communication over SSL is at risk. Perfect forward secrecy is no panacea, however; whilst it makes wholesale decryption of past SSL connections difficult, it does not protect against targeted attack on individual sessions. Whether or not PFS is used, SSL remains an important tool for web sites to use to secure data transmission across the internet to protect against (perhaps all but the most well-equipped) eavesdroppers.

It should be noted that the US Government, along with many others governments, can issue any SSL certificate of its choosing — albeit at the risk of breaking the rules of the programme and at the risk of detection by alert users and by Google (for certain SSL sites). The scale at which an active attack is practical and unlikely to be detected, however, would be significantly smaller than that of a passive eavesdropper exploiting the lack of PFS.

More detail on PFS negotiation

The cipher suite selected for the SSL connection depends on an agreement between the browser and the SSL site. Both browsers and SSL sites can each have independent preference lists for SSL cipher suites. During the handshake the browser sends a ClientHello message which contains an ordered list of all supported cipher suites in preference order. The SSL site can either select the first cipher on that list which it also supports or it can use override the clients preference list with its own. As illustrated in the above diagram, either Cipher A (if the browser's preference order is respected) or Cipher C (if the website's preference order is respected) is used for the connection depending on the settings of the SSL site.

Illustration of cipher suite selection algorithms.

Diffie-Hellman key exchange (DH) and variants of it are used to negotiate a per-session shared secret key between two parties without ever transmitting the key itself. The per-session key can be discarded after the session has terminated (and after a suitable time period for renegotiation) leading to the ephemeral property which PFS relies upon. The security of Diffie-Hellman relies on the difficulty of the discrete logarithm problem to exchange DH public keys whilst making it difficult for an eavesdropper to determine the resulting shared secret. SSL cipher suites support both conventional ephemeral Diffie-Hellman key exchange (often referred to as EDH or DHE) and ephemeral elliptic curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDHE) which uses a similar scheme but relies on the difficulty of the elliptic curve Discrete Logarithm problem. Elliptic curve-based DHE key exchange despite being faster is supported by fewer SSL sites than conventional DHE.

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.

OCSP Server Performance in April 2013

Rank Performance Graph OS Outage
hh:mm:ss
Failed
Req%
DNS Connect First
byte
Total
1 ocsp.starfieldtech.com Linux  0:00:00  0.013  0.111 0.023 0.043 0.043
2 ocsp.trendmicro.com/tmca Citrix Netscaler  0:00:00  0.019  0.043 0.099 0.200 0.200
3 ocsp.entrust.net Linux  0:00:00  0.022  0.251 0.014 0.249 0.249
4 ocsp.godaddy.com Linux  0:00:00  0.022  0.164 0.021 0.041 0.041
5 ocsp.digicert.com Linux  0:00:00  0.022  0.027 0.026 0.051 0.051
6 ocsp.quovadisglobal.com Windows Server 2003  0:00:00  0.032  0.021 0.116 0.222 0.222
7 ocsp.verisign.com Citrix Netscaler  0:00:00  0.038  0.050 0.084 0.168 0.168
8 evsecure-ocsp.verisign.com Citrix Netscaler  0:00:00  0.041  0.239 0.085 0.168 0.168
9 ocsp.thawte.com Citrix Netscaler  0:00:00  0.044  0.041 0.083 0.165 0.165
10 ocsp.startssl.com/sub/class4/server/ca Linux  0:00:00  0.047  0.086 0.011 0.041 0.041

See full table

Starfield Technologies had the most reliable OCSP responder during April, failing to respond to only 4 of Netcraft's OCSP requests. Starfield also had the most reliable responder in March, but showed a slight improvement to its average connection times in April. Starfield was founded as the technology and research branch of Go Daddy in 2003, and Go Daddy customers can choose to have their SSL certificates issued by either Starfield or Go Daddy.

Trend Micro had the second most reliable OCSP responder, which failed to respond to only 6 requests. However, this could be one of the survey's least busy responders: Netcraft's April 2013 SSL Survey discovered only 113 valid SSL certificates issued by Trend Micro, all of which are organisation validated. 29 of these certificates are used by a single organisation, Florida Hospital.

StartCom (which operates StartSSL) once again exhibited the fastest connection times, taking only a hundredth of a second to establish a TCP connection for one of its OCSP URLs.  However, its reliability was only just good enough to make it into the top ten — in total, 15 requests to http://ocsp.startssl.com/sub/class4/server/ca failed during April.

Linux is the most popular choice of operating system on which to run an OCSP responder, and it certainly seems to perform well with regard to connection times: all of the top 25 fastest OCSP responders used Linux in April. In terms of failed requests, though, the distribution of Citrix Netscaler appliances is skewed towards the more reliable end of the spectrum — of the five responders that were using Netscaler, four of them feature in the top ten. QuoVadis's OCSP responder, which was sixth most reliable in April, is one of only two responders that ran on Windows.

On April 24, nginx 1.4.0 stable was released, incorporating several new features that had previously only been released in development branches of the web server. One of the most important performance features is that nginx now support OCSP stapling. This feature is designed to improve performance by allowing secure websites to "staple" a cached OCSP response to the TLS handshake, removing the need for the client browser to make a second, separate connection to the certificate authority's OCSP responder.

The Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) is an alternative method to Certificate Revocation Lists (CRLs) for obtaining the revocation status of an individual SSL certificate. Fast and reliable OCSP responders are essential for both Certificate Authorities (CAs) and their customers — a slow OCSP response will introduce an additional delay before many browsers can start sending and receiving encrypted traffic over an HTTPS connection.