Now more than ever, shopping over the internet is second nature for many in first world countries. From Amazon to buy.com to eBay, millions of dollars are transferred electronically every day between buyer and seller.
With such massive amounts of consumer activity online, technology like VeriSign's Secure Socket Layer (SSL), help keep honest shoppers safe from the perils of phishing attacks and fraud. With SSL software, and a little bit of internet savvy, one can keep themselves and their bank accounts safe from fraudulent websites.
That was, up until today. While I wouldn't go sounding the doomsday alarms just yet, an international team of internet security experts managed to hack SSL.
The actual feat was the breaking of one of the MD5 algorithms used in issuing security certificates for websites. Security certificates are used to confirm that a website is legitimate and not an attempt to mislead the visitor. Once the team broke though the algorithm, they were able to hack into the RapidSSL.com website. After this, the team was able to produce false security certificates that had identical MD5 hash values as legitimate certificates.
According to the report, "the team that did the research work included independent researchers Jacob Appelbaum and Alexander Sotirov, as well as computer scientists from the Centrum Wiskunde&Informatica, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, the Eindhoven University of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley." As of the original story, the team was set to show off their accomplishments at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin.
While the findings are certainly a feat, and a frightening one at that, the team responsible along with companies like Microsoft have downplayed the vulnerability. "This new disclosure does not increase risk to customers significantly, as the researchers have not published the cryptographic background to the attack, and the attack is not repeatable without this information," said Microsoft. So, assuming the detrimental information stays out of the wrong hands, we are all safe.
Despite downplaying the severity of the hack, one team member made a point of saying internet security needs to change. "It's a wake-up call for anyone still using MD5," said David Molnar, a team member and Berkeley graduate student. Tim Callan, VeriSign's vice president of product marketing, said RapidSSL.com will stop issuing MD5-based digital certificates by the end of January and is atempting to get its customers onto newer security products.