Phishing Alerts for Certificate Authorities

The internet community has been taught that one of the key steps in protecting their personal information on the internet is to ensure that it is entered only over an encrypted connection, perhaps by looking for the lock symbol in the browser address bar or web addresses beginning with https://. As a result, phishing attacks which make use of SSL certificates are especially dangerous as most users associate the presence of a valid SSL certificate with an increased level of assurance. Such attacks erode the reputation of Certificate Authorities and SSL certificates.

While the majority of phishing attacks run over HTTP, a significant number run on sites for which SSL certificates have been issued. In July 2012 alone, Netcraft found phishing attacks using a total of 505 unique valid SSL certificates from widely trusted issuers.

Although in some cases certificates have been issued specifically for the purposes of phishing the more common case is where well intentioned, bona fide certificate owners find that they are unwittingly providing facilities for phishing because their site has been compromised by an attacker.

Having access to timely, professionally validated alerts when phishing attacks occur is operationally efficient and responsible for certificate authorities, as well as an important part of preserving their company's reputation. It gives post issuance information on troublesome certificates and domains of which the certificate authority might otherwise be blissfully unaware.

Phishing Alerts are also a very valuable service for certificate holders, for whom it may be the first notification of a serious problem, giving them an opportunity to engage the attacker and wrest back control of their site before more harm is done.

Netcraft produces a continuously updated phishing feed that is very widely used. At least three separate third party studies have found it to be the most comprehensive feed available. The feed is used in all the major web browsers and it is also licensed by many of the leading anti-virus, content filtering, web-hosting and domain registration companies.

Phishing sites are submitted to the feed by the Netcraft Toolbar community. Reporters range from individuals submitting phishing mails that they have personally received, to specialist security researchers and several of the largest banks and financial payment systems. All submissions are carefully validated before being added to the feed. Well over five million unique phishing sites have been detected and blocked by Netcraft's community to date [September 2012].

GlobalSign commenced providing this service to all of its certificate owners in August 2012 (press release), and in the first month of the service around 70 distinct certificate owners were alerted to phishing attacks on sites where their certificates were deployed.

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