Widespread vulnerabilities found in programs which use OpenSSL

New vulnerabilities were discovered yesterday in multiple programs using OpenSSL, one of the standard cryptography libraries on Linux and Unix systems. Due to a common mistake in checking return values from functions checking digital signatures, several programs may be vulnerable to spoofing of digital signatures.

The most important affected program is ISC Bind, which is the most widely used DNS server on the internet. A flaw in its validation of signatures on DNSSEC replies means that the server may be vulnerable to DNS spoofing attacks even where DNSSEC is in use. Bind have released BIND 9.6.0-P1 this morning to fix this bug.

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14% of SSL Certificates signed using Vulnerable MD5 Algorithm

Netcraft's SSL Survey shows that 14% of valid third party SSL certificates have been issued using MD5 signatures — an algorithm that has recently been demonstrated to be vulnerable to attack by producing a fake certificate authority certificate signed by a widely-trusted third party certificate authority.

The researchers achieved this by producing a hash collision — they submitted valid certificate requests to a certificate authority (CA), while producing a second certificate that had the same signature but entirely different details. When the CA signed the valid certificate, the signature applied also to the invalid certificate, allowing the researchers to spoof any secure website that they liked. This attack is the first practical use against SSL of already-known attacks against the MD5 checksum algorithm.

Netcraft's December 2008 SSL Survey found 135,000 valid third party certificates using MD5 signatures on public web sites, which is around 14% of the total number of valid SSL certificates in use.The great majority consist of certificates from RapidSSL (shown as Equifax on the certiifcate). As of Netcraft's December survey, all of the 128,000 RapidSSL certificates in use on public sites were signed with MD5; there are some much smaller CAs that use MD5 still, and there are a small number of certificates from Thawte and VeriSign, although most of their certificates are signed with the more secure SHA1. Other CAs use only SHA1.

Verisign (owners of RapidSSL since 2006) have stated that they have stopped using MD5-signing for RapidSSL certificates, and will have phased out MD5-signing across all their certificate products by the end of January 2009. Other affected CAs are likely to follow suit, as SHA1 is well established and is already in use for the majority of SSL certificate signing, so it should be simple to switch to using this more secure alternative. Once it is impossible to obtain new certificates signed with MD5, this attack will be neutralised.

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Ongoing Phishing Attack Exposes Yahoo Accounts

Update 2008-10-28: The attack is no longer ongoing. Yahoo has provided us with the following in a statement:

The team was made aware of this particular Cross-Site Scripting issue yesterday morning (Sunday, Oct. 26) and a fix was deployed within a matter of hours. Yahoo! appreciates Netcraft's assistance in identifying this issue.

As a safety precaution, we recommend users change their passwords, should they still be concerned. Users should always verify via their Sign-in Seal that they are giving their passwords to Yahoo.com.

Our original article follows:

The Netcraft toolbar community has detected a vulnerability on a Yahoo website, which (at the time of writing) is currently being used to steal authentication cookies from Yahoo users — transmitting them to a website under the control of a remote attacker. With these stolen details, the attacker can gain access to his victims' Yahoo accounts, such as Yahoo Mail.

The attack exploits a cross-site scripting vulnerability on Yahoo's HotJobs site at hotjobs.yahoo.com, which currently allows the attacker to inject obfuscated JavaScript into the affected page. The script steals the authentication cookies that are sent for the yahoo.com domain and passes them to a different website in the United States, where the attacker is harvesting stolen authentication details.

When websites use cookies to handle authenticated sessions, it is extremely important to protect the cookie values and ensure they are not seen by other parties. Cross-site scripting vulnerabilities often allow these values to be accessed by an attacker and transmitted to a website under their control, which then allows the attacker to use the same cookie values to hijack their victim's session without needing to log in. This type of attack can be mitigated to some extent by using HttpOnly cookies to prevent scripts gaining access to the cookies — a feature that is now supported by most modern browsers.

Earlier this year, Netcraft blocked a similar flaw on another Yahoo website. The previous attack targeted a cross-site scripting vulnerability on Yahoo's ychat.help.yahoo.com site, which was served securely using a valid SSL certificate, adding further credibility to the attack. The attacker used the vulnerability to inject malign JavaScript into one of the site's webpages. Unlike the current attack, the injected code was sourced from a server in Spain, but also resulted in the victim's cookies being stolen and transmitted to a PHP script on the same server.

The small cookie-stealing script injected by the attacker.

A similar technique employed by the current attack.

In both cases, Netcraft found that the Yahoo cookies stolen by the attacker would have allowed him to hijack his victims' browser sessions, letting him gain access to all of their Yahoo Mail emails and any other account which uses cookies for the yahoo.com domain.

Simply visiting the malign URLs on yahoo.com can be enough for a victim to fall prey to the attacker, letting him steal the necessary session cookies to gain access to the victim's email — the victim does not even have to type in their username and password for the attacker to do this. Both attacks send the victim to a blank webpage, leaving them unlikely to realise that their own account has just been compromised.

Both attacks send victims to a innocuous-looking, blank webpage.

The Netcraft Toolbar protects users against both of these attacks, warning that the malformed Yahoo URLs contain cross-site scripting elements, and that the URLs have been classified as known phishing sites.

Netcraft has informed Yahoo of the latest attack, although at the time of writing, the HotJobs vulnerability and the attacker's cookie harvesting script are both still present.

SSL Certificates Vulnerable to OpenSSL Flaw on Debian

Netcraft's June SSL Survey has found that a significant number of SSL certificates are affected by the Debian OpenSSL vulnerability, including Extended Validation SSL certificates and certificates belonging to banks.

The vulnerable certificates afford opportunities to create deceptive sites which use apparently valid SSL certificates, giving the user the impression that the site belongs to the certified organisation. In the case of EV certificates, browsers will also turn the address bar green, even though the certificate may be cloned.

From an attacker's point of view, the main limitation is that the browser will warn the user if the certificate common name does not match the name used by the user to access the site, so the attacker would need to affect the user's network or the DNS results to get a completely seamless attack.

The following screenshot demonstrates the feasibility and effectiveness of such an attack.

Spoofed EV SSL Certificate
Example based on vulnerable site found via Netcraft's SSL Survey database.

On the 13th May, Debian released a security advisory (also described in CVE-2008-0166) announcing a vulnerability in Debian's OpenSSL package, which made it possible to discover private keys from public SSL and SSH keys. The issue affects all versions of OpenSSL on Debian-based operating systems over the course of two years — ever since two lines of code were commented out to prevent compilers displaying warnings about the use of uninitialized data.

The removal of these two lines of code vastly decreases the entropy of the seed used by the pseudo-random number generator in OpenSSL, making it easier to predict the random numbers generated by OpenSSL. This makes it easy for remote attackers to conduct offline brute force attacks against the cryptographic keys used in SSL certificates generated on vulnerable systems. All SSL and SSH keys generated on Debian-based operating systems since September 2006 may be affected. Affected operating systems include Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Knoppix, Grml and the Xandros Linux distribution used by the popular Asus Eee PC.

Spoofed EV SSL Certificate

HD Moore has published an analysis of the Debian OpenSSL issue at Metasploit, noting how the keys are tied to the process ID. Using 31 Xeon cores clocked at 2.33GHz, Moore was able to generate all 1024-bit DSA and 2048-bit RSA keys for x86 architectures in only 2 hours, and all 4096-bit RSA keys in about 6 hours.

Although a number of certificate authorities have offered free replacement certificates to customers affected by the Debian OpenSSL vulnerability, it has been reported that they have not been getting a big response. Comodo is offering a free replacement SSL certificate to any affected business, regardless of their original provider, while VeriSign is offering free reissuance for both SSL certificates and code signing certificates. GeoTrust and Thawte also offer free SSL certificate reissuance, and RapidSSL certificates can be renewed for free at GeoTrust's website.

PayPal XSS Vulnerability Undermines EV SSL Security

A security researcher in Finland has discovered a cross-site scripting vulnerability on paypal.com that would allow hackers to carry out highly plausible attacks, adding their own content to the site and stealing credentials from users.

The vulnerability is made worse by the fact that the affected page uses an Extended Validation SSL certificate, which causes the browser's address bar to turn green, assuring visitors that the site – and its content – belongs to PayPal. Two years ago, a similar vulnerability was discovered on a different page of the PayPal site, which also used an SSL certificate.

PayPal XSS EV SSL Certificate
"Is it safe?" - a message injected on the PayPal website today

Harry Sintonen discovered the vulnerability and announced it to other web application security specialists in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel today. Sintonen told Netcraft that the issue was critical, adding that, "you could easily steal credentials," and, "PayPal says you can trust the URL if it begins with https://www.paypal.com," which is not true in this case.

While SSL certificates do indeed provide a higher level of assurance when it comes to site ownership, they cannot guarantee that a site is free from other security problems – including cross-site scripting. There are concerns that hackers may exploit misunderstandings in the significance of the green address bar for their own benefit, piggybacking off the trust that is instilled by EV certificates. Users need to be aware that a green address bar does not guarantee the origin of a page's contents if there is a cross-site scripting vulnerability on that page.

The vulnerability comes to light only a month after PayPal published a practical approach to managing phishing on their blog, which extols the use of Extended Validation certificates in preventing phishing. The document describes browsers that do not support EV certificates as "unsafe" and announces the company's plans to block customers from accessing their website from the most unsafe browsers.

PayPal was one of the first companies to adopt EV certificates and the company says it has seen noticeably lower abandonment rates on signup flows for Internet Explorer 7 users versus other browsers. According to the document, PayPal believe this correlates closely to user interface changes triggered by their use of EV certificates.

Clinton and Obama XSS Battle Develops

While Clinton and Obama are battling it out in the political arena, security researchers are continuing to find vulnerabilities in the candidates' and supporters' websites. Interestingly, while a typical exploit is to redirect one party's site to their opponent's, the reasons for seeking to discover such vulnerabilities are not always politically motivated.


Following the recent cross-site scripting attacks against Barack Obama's website, Finnish security researcher Harry Sintonen has published an example of a cross-site scripting vulnerability on votehillary.org.

Sintonen's example submits a POST request to the Vote Hillary website and injects an iframe, causing the site to display the contents of Barack Obama's website. Unlike the Obama incident, which redirected the user's web browser, Sintonen's method retains the votehillary.org URL in the address bar while displaying the opposing website.

Sintonen told Netcraft that he was inspired by the recent Obama attacks and first examined Hillary Clinton's official website at www.hillaryclinton.com. Sintonen did not find any cross-site scripting vulnerabilities on this site, adding that it looked quite secure, but subsequently found XSS opportunities available on the Vote Hillary website. Sintonen lives in Finland and has no strong interest in US politics.

While the example exploits have so far been relatively benign (limited to redirecting a user to the opponent's website, for example), future cross-site scripting vulnerabilities found on political candidate sites have plenty of scope to be much more serious. Obama's and Clinton's websites both accept monetary contributions towards their campaigns, so cross-site scripting vulnerabilities could be leveraged to steal money and identities from supporters.

Sintonen told Netcraft he informed the webmasters of votehillary.org about this cross-site scripting vulnerability two days ago, but has not yet received a response.