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In this work, we report on a comprehensive analysis of PKI resulting from Certificate Authorities’ (CAs) behavior using over 1300 instances. We found several cases where CAs designed business models that favored the issuance of digital certificates over the guidelines of the CA Forum, root management programs, and other PKI requirements. Examining PKI from the perspective of business practices, we identify a taxonomy of failures and identify systemic vulnerabilities in the governance and practices in PKI. Notorious cases include the “backdating” of digital certificates, the issuance of these for MITM attempts, the lack of verification of a requester’s identity, and the unscrupulous issuance of rogue certificates. We performed a detailed study of 379 of these 1300 incidents. Using this sample, we developed a taxonomy of the different types of incidents and their causes. For each incident, we determined if the incident was disclosed by the problematic CA. We also noted the Root CA and the year of the incident. We identify the failures in terms of business practices, geography, and outcomes from CAs. We analyzed the role of Root Program Owners (RPOs) and differentiated their policies. We identified serial and chronic offenders in the PKI trusted root programs. Some of these were distrusted by RPOs, while others remain being trusted despite failures. We also identified cases where the concentration of power of RPOs was arguably a contributing factor in the incident. We identify these cases where there is a risk of concentration of power and the resulting conflict of interests. Our research is the first comprehensive academic study addressing all verified reported incidents. We approach this not from a machine learning or statistical perspective but, rather, we identify each reported public incident with a focus on identifying patterns of individual lapses. Here we also have a specific focus on the role of CAs and RPOs. Building on this study, we identify the issues in incentive structures that are contributors to the problems.
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A complete study of P.K.I. (PKI’s Known Incidents)
Nicolas Serrano
School of Informatics,
Computing & Engineering
Indiana University
Bloomington
nicserra@iu.edu
Hilda Hadan
School of Informatics,
Computing & Engineering
Indiana University
Bloomington
hhadan@iu.edu
L Jean Camp
School of Informatics,
Computing & Engineering
Indiana University
Bloomington
ljcamp@indiana.edu
Abstract In this work, we report on a comprehensive
analysis of PKI resulting from Certificate Authorities’ (CAs)
behavior using over 1300 instances. We found several cases
where CAs designed business models that favored the issuance
of digital certificates over the guidelines of the CA Forum,
root management programs, and other PKI requirements.
Examining PKI from the perspective of business practices, we
identify a taxonomy of failures and identify systemic vulnera-
bilities in the governance and practices in PKI. Notorious cases
include the “backdating” of digital certificates, the issuance
of these for MITM attempts, the lack of verification of a
requester’s identity, and the unscrupulous issuance of rogue
certificates. We performed a detailed study of 379 of these
1300 incidents. Using this sample, we developed a taxonomy
of the different types of incidents and their causes. For each
incident, we determined if the incident was disclosed by the
problematic CA. We also noted the Root CA and the year
of the incident. We identify the failures in terms of business
practices, geography, and outcomes from CAs.
We analyzed the role of Root Program Owners (RPOs) and
differentiated their policies. We identified serial and chronic
offenders in the PKI trusted root programs. Some of these were
distrusted by RPOs, while others remain being trusted despite
failures. We also identified cases where the concentration of
power of RPOs was arguably a contributing factor in the
incident. We identify these cases where there is a risk of
concentration of power and the resulting conflict of interests.
Our research is the first comprehensive academic study
addressing all verified reported incidents. We approach
this not from a machine learning or statistical perspective
but, rather, we identify each reported public incident with a
focus on identifying patterns of individual lapses. Here we also
have a specific focus on the role of CAs and RPOs. Building
on this study, we identify the issues in incentive structures that
are contributors to the problems.
I. INTRODUCTION
The Public Key Infrastructure supports secure connections
between clients and servers. Also, it is used to send encrypted
and authenticated emails, to sign software and to authenticate
users into a secure system. Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)
comprises a series of servers, network protocols, hashing
and encrypting algorithms, security policies, systems and
applications, working together to allow, for example, that
a person can check his bank account online without the fear
of an account takeover.
But we all trust in PKI. We must trust in PKI. It was
conceived to be trusted. Its cryptographic foundation is
solid, the role of each participant is defined, the hardware
is mature and applications program interfaces are widely
used. However, there have been problems with PKI. There
are reasons to reconsider this trust. For example, while the
mathematical foundations of the cryptography used in PKI
have been studied and demonstrated to be complex to crack,
advances in hardware have turned computationally secure
algorithms into breakable ones. In addition, sometimes the
implementation of these cryptographical algorithms intro-
duces flaws or vulnerabilities that are external to the core
crypto-mathematical function, and that can be exploited by
attackers.
Sometimes, the vulnerabilities are not in the cryptographic
protocols, implementing code or hardware, but in the busi-
ness systems or processes that support the operations of
PKI, for example, in the issuance of digital certificates.
Certificates above all are a good sold in the PKI world. These
miscellaneous but necessary steps that are required to obtain
a digital certificate have proven to be sometimes hazardous.
Here we address the business component of PKI, examin-
ing the organizations that are the issuers of the certificates.
The goal of a business is to be competitive and to make
profit. The goal of a digital certificate is to bring security
to its user. Therefore, digital certificates are private goods
that offer security to its users and that are sold by some
companies for a profit. These companies may be interested in
ensuring security to people interacting with their customers
after the sale, but the goal of a certificate authority (CA) is to
profit from selling as many certificates as possible. It would
be possible to make a theoretical argument that this is a moral
hazard1, but here we take an empirical approach to document
the questionable behaviors of these companies. One common
behavior is failing to verify the identity of the requester or
issuing certificates that are structurally susceptible to misuse.
From a strictly technical perspective, these misbehaviors may
seem unexpected from given the key role of CAs in PKI and
the trust that they hold. Still, these issues cannot be called
particularly surprising. After almost 20 years, questions that
arose in the first generation of PKI about vulnerabilities
arising from assumptions about organizational behaviors [1]
as well as about human trust [2] remain unanswered.
There is no question of the need for the most secure
and unbreakable cryptographic algorithms and investment in
1A moral hazard occurs when the party decides to take a risk, or how
much risk to take, is not the one that bears the harm resulting from the risk.
the associated libraries; however, the moment that profit is
introduced and risks are allocated more questions must be
asked. This empirical evaluation addresses the issues of (as
Ross Anderson says) “Why Information Security is Hard”,
[3].
II. REL ATED WORK
The two empirical contributions of this work are the sys-
tematic compilation and classification of CA failures as well
as a taxonomy of these failures beyond rogue certificates.
While rogue CAs are a known problem, other systematic
failures are individually studied yet not evaluated as part of
a taxonomy. This research builds on work primarily from the
security community rather than the business literature.
The research is most aligned with this work on the
original objections to the concentration of trust in certificate
authorities. Lauded technologist Martin Abadi identified the
presence of perverse incentives as PKI was being rolled out
[4]. In contrast to the hierarchical model with transitivity
of trust, he proposed that individuals begin with little or no
trust and then add roots. This was echoed by philosopher
Helen Nissenbaum, who joined with peers to point out that
trust is not only not transitive, but also that the assumptions
of patterns of human interaction in PKI were in direct
opposition to the understanding of actual human behavior
by social scientists, behavioral researchers, and philosophers
[2].
As previously noted, the economic challenges and perverse
incentives of the current x.509 system were discussed by
Schneier and Ellison in 2000 [1].
In one examination of the socio-technical components of
PKI, Park addressed the citizen-facing adoption of PKI in
South Korea and concludes that the success was despite
technical choices (e.g., ActiveX) not because of technical ex-
cellence [5]. Another researcher proposed a socio-technical
solution to the challenges of TLS by building a model that
embeds the existence of possible warnings and potential user
responses [6].
S. Roosa et al. discussed some of the most known inci-
dents in PKI related to CAs problems, including legal and
economic aspects of the PKI model [7]. In their conclusions,
they share points with this research, for example, stating
that the CA’s audits have room for improvement. In a paper
some years later, authors at INRIA and Microsoft found
that despite requirements for improved practices from the
CA Browser Forum in 2015 there was a large number of
noncompliant certificates, [8]. The size of CAs was found
to be indeterminate, yet some months later Symantec was
forced to sell their certificate business to DigiCert due to the
chronic bad practices at the VeriSign-owned CAs (VeriSign,
Thawte, Equifax, GeoTrust, and RapidSSL).
S. Matsumoto et al. proposed a PKI based on the
blockchain (Instant Karma PKI, IKP) to offer incentives for
CAs if they behave correctly, and for others if they report
rogue certificates [9]. Using blockchain, the mechanism can
be implanted in a decentralized fashion with automatic alerts
generated by the smart-contracts processing in the nodes. The
idea is based on the same findings of this study: the lack of
incentives that CAs have to behave according to what it is
expected of them. However, the blockchain solution does not
resolve the incentives issue, obfuscates the trust chain, and
makes revocation more problematic.
Khan and coauthors went beyond and proposed a new
PKI paradigm, Accountable and Transparent TLS Certificate
Management (ATCM) [10]. Using this scheme, the entire
life-cycle of digital certificates would be made public and
re-engineered to fix existent flaws (like revocation processes)
and improve its performance. Once again, one goal of this
approach is to make the activity of CAs public and increase
accountability.
Wang et al. proposal share points in common with previous
ideas [11]. While the goals of implementing certificate
and revocation transparency are similar to ATCM, the ar-
chitecture of the system is based on the blockchain, like
in IKP. Both ATCM and this proposal are very similar to
the presently used Certificate Transparency mechanism, as
discussed in Section VII. [12]
J. Gustafsson et al. surveyed the implementation of Cer-
tificate Transparency by different actors and how these differ
between them [13].
Q. Scheitle et al. provided a broader consideration of
Transparency, identifying the privacy threats and data leak-
ages that this public solution causes to the domains [14].
S. Eskandarian et al. provided possible solutions to maintain
the privacy of subdomains in the public logs, and to protect
the privacy of users querying these logs [15].
Leaving the Certificate Transparency discussion, Braun et
al. demonstrated that users automatically trust in a huge
number of CAs, yet they make use of a minimal subset
of these [16]. In order to prevent unnecessary risks, an
approach where the set of trusted CAs are individualized
to each user would arguably improve the network.
Z. Dong et al. identified the problem that rogue certificates
bring to the PKI network. They proposed a machine learning
method for timely detection, one that combined global and
local data. An advantage of that approach is that there was
no requirement to change the existent infrastructure and it
does not decrease individual privacy [17]. The proposal
offered promising results in the laboratory, and immediately
identified the rogue in the real “2014 - India CCA” incident,
which is touched upon in Section VI.
A. Micheloni et al. similarly focused on identifying rogue
certificates [18]. Their scheme is similar to previous ideas
using notaries, however, they decentralize the method and
implement it in a P2P fashion called Laribus. In addition to
improving the availability of a centralized notary system,
they protect the privacy of the users when querying the
“Notary” peers.
D. Kumar et al. developed a tool called ZLint that helped
to detect misconfigured digital certificates in the wild, based
on the specification of the Baseline Requirements (BR)
[19]. On the one hand, they showed that mis-issuance of
digital certificates has declined abruptly in recent years;
however, they discovered that some small CAs have been
2
issuing erroneous certificates since the beginning of their
operations at an alarming rate. O. Gasser et al. measured
the presence of misconfigured digital certificates as well,
through active scans of the network and by searching the
logs of Certificate Transparency [20]. While both approaches
discovered numerous misconfigured certificates, the rate of
misconfigured certificates found in the transparency logs was
lower than that of other collection approaches.
Finally, while this study addresses the moral hazard and
resulting negative externalities that errors in CAs bring to
those relying on PKI, other major areas of study are in the
faulty implementations of the cryptographic model behind
PKI. Brubaker et al. developed a methodology for large-
scale testing of digital certificates validation in different
TLS implementations [21]. The research revealed alarming
security vulnerabilities in several TLS implementations that
allowed the creation of rogue certificates, and a lack of
adequate warnings to the final users by the major web
browsers. Another example is the widely known “Goto Fail”,
where Apple’s TLS library was found not to verify correctly
that a certificate had any association with the domain it was
intended to verify.
We are not aware of current research focusing on mis-
behaviors and unethical practices of CAs in the last years,
or in classifications of PKI incidents by their cause or
type. Previous large-scale analysis depended on automated
identification of non-compliant certificates, where business
relationships or domain of use may have created false
positives. Here we use small, individually verifiable instances
of certificate failures with a focus on the organization of the
market.
III. CERT IFIC ATE GOVERNA NCE
Certificate governance is implemented with three major
stakeholders. There are the managers of Root Programs.
Root Programs determine which certificate authorities will be
included by default in an application distribution, and which
will be untrusted. The CA Forum includes representatives
from the Root Programs and from the Certificate Authorities.
The CA Forum sets standards for certificates themselves and
the processes by which these are issued. And, of course,
Certificate Authorities actually issue certificates.
To provide an understanding of the PKI ecosystem, we
begin by describing the Root Programs, summarizing their
differences at the end of the section. Later we describe the
CA Forum and their guidelines and requirements.
A. Root Programs Requirements
Root Programs are managed by different entities that
create and distribute software platforms. We detail and differ-
entiate the Root Programs of Microsoft, Apple, Google and
Mozilla, given their importance in the ecosystem. However,
there are other Root Programs, for example: Oracle’s Certifi-
cate Authority Root Certificates in Java2, Adobe Approved
2www.oracle.com/technetwork/java/javase/javasecarootcertsprogram-
1876540.html
Trust List3and Android4(although this is more a store policy
than a formal program). There are programs that have not
survived; for example, Nokia, Blackberry and Opera had
their own programs years ago.
The impact of the root programs varies by scope. For
example, the January 2019 market share of Chrome is
68.48% with Edge and IE coming a distant second at 10.4%
and Mozilla, Safari, and Opera following at 9.9%, 6.44%,
and 2% respectively (for desktop web browsers). Based on
these figures, the Root Programs and root certificate choices
of the top five browsers were examined, as these cover over
96% of the market.
1) Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer: The Microsoft
Trusted Root Certificate Program (known as “Program”) is
used by Microsoft to identify those root certificates which
will be included in Microsoft products, most notably in
Windows [22].
Applicants who seek to have the root of their Certificate
Authorities included must complete a formal application
process. This includes:
Basic contact information about the applicant.
The detail of the root signing certificate(s).
Evidence that the inclusion of the CA into the Program
results in a benefit to Microsoft’s customers.
A positive result from a third-party auditor5,
The contract verifies that the CA inclusion in the program
is a unilateral decision taken solely by Microsoft that can be
ended with Microsoft’s discretion. Once accepted and after
inclusion in the next code release, the CA must comply with
basic operational requirements.
A positive audit result for each root certificate used in
signing.
Contact information updates.
The CA must share with Microsoft its complete PKI
hierarchy.
Verification of all requirements to subordinates or cross-
signed root certificates not included in the Program.
Informing Microsoft about transferring the ownership
of an enrolled root certificate to another entity.
For example, the sale of StartCom to WoSign violated the
last of these requirements.
General root certificate requirements
These are x.509 v3 and the CN field identifies the
publisher and is unique.
A life range between 8 and 25 years.
Private key and Subject Name must be new for each
one.
Government CAs are restricted to .gov domains and
their country of sovereignty.
3https://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/kb/approved-trust-list2.html
4https://android.googlesource.com/platform/system/ca-
certificates/+/master/files/
5The audit requirements can be found in
https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc751157.aspx
3
Intermediate CAs must follow the requirements of
the CAB Forum Baseline.
A single CA cannot be used to issue server authen-
tication and code signing/timestamping certificates
at the same time.
Permitted EKUs for the root certificates.
Strength of keys requirements
No 1024-bit RSA used.
No SHA-1 used.
Specific ECC allowed.
Certificate revocation requirements
The CA must be able to revoke any certificates
issued by it.
The revocation process must follow a documented
revocation policy.
All certificates must be associated with a CRL or
OSCP.
The CA must direct its own timestamp authority.
In case of noncompliance with the Program at any
time, Microsoft will remove the root certificate(s) from the
program. Again, WoSign and StartCom provide an exem-
plar [23]. In addition to the revocation of the CA and its
subordinates, Microsoft has other options. One of these is
automatically blocking access to resources signed by rejected
CA certificates to all customers. Another is to demand a
third party audit of the CA, its business and technical opera-
tions, back to the date that Microsoft determines. Microsoft
maintains the right to communicate with any affected parties,
including by a public release of information.
In terms of responding to any CA incident and thus
protecting customers, the CA agrees to a set of conditions.
Microsoft must be informed about any occurrence in no more
than 24 hours with full information related to the causes,
consequences and miscellaneous aspects of the incident. This
notification should include a list of all certificates miss-used
due to the incident. Then, as the CA responded, they must
provide continuous feedback to Microsoft about the recovery
and mitigation of the issue. After the incident has been
addressed, the CA must provide a full detailed final report
related to the security incident.
As November of 2018, the Program has 388 accepted
root certificate participants, with 347 of these active [24].
2) Safari: Apple, the provider of the web browser Safari,
uses a similar approach to Microsoft. Root certificates are
kept in a store in the operating system and the root certificate
authorities must comply with documented requirements to
get their root certificates into this store [25]. The program
is called Apple Root Certificate Program.
The main requirement is to conduct a series of CA audits.
Apple accepts the CA audits carried by WebTrust [26] or
equivalent. In addition, in case of issuing EV certificates,
the CA must pass the specific WebTrust’s audit for EV [27]
and, also, follow the CA/Browser Forum guidelines [28]. For
simple TLS certificates, the WebTrust’s audit requirements
are [29] and the CA/Browser Forum guidelines [30]. Also,
CAs should notify to Apple any transfer of ownership in the
CA operations.
Finally, in the same spirit that Microsoft, Apple states that
the inclusion of the root CA certificate must bring value to
Apple’s users, and that they can remove root certificates at
their own discretion.
As can be seen, Apple’s Root Certificate Program relies
completely on the CA/Browser Forum guidelines and re-
quirements, without special needs as in the case of Microsoft.
At present, the last version of Apple’s OSs includes
178 root certificates in their trust store (and 38 explicitly
blocked) [31].
3) Google Chrome:The root certificate requirements de-
manded in Google Chrome are defined by The Chromium
Projects [32]. In general, the policy followed by this web
browser is to make use of the certificates store of the operat-
ing system. For example, if a root certificate is found in the
Microsoft Windows Certificate Store, then it is considered
trustworthy. In the case of several Linux distributions, due
to the lack of a centralized root certificate program Chrome
uses Mozilla’s Network Security Services (NSS) [33] to
perform certificate verification6.
Also, root CAs that issue Extended Validation certificates
are hard-coded in the binary file of the browser, therefore, in
that case the CA must contact Chromium to be supported
in Chrome. In addition, for these CAs Google demands
the adherence to its Certificate Transparency policy7. Not
adhering to this will make Google cease to show the EV
indicator in the browser.
There are other scenarios where Google Chrome will
distrust a root certificate despite its existence in the OS
certificate store. Chromium is very clear (and dramatic) about
this8:“Google Chrome reserves the right to distrust root
certificates present in the operating system’s root certificate
list. At the core of trust in the PKI system is the fact that
the operation of Root CAs is beyond reproach. If one of
these guardians of trust were to operate in a non-trustworthy
way, it would be no different than a police officer who was
covering up a crime or protecting the identity of a criminal
(because it reflected personally on the officer), or a firefighter
who was not responding to fires in which people died. If one
of these bastions of public trust (police, fire) were violating
the trust we had placed in them, the reaction would be strong
and swift. And, it is worth noting that this is so egregious a
violation, that there is no consideration as to the collateral
damage that might be caused by removing him/her from
society - for example, hardship to his family, since he is
the sole breadwinner. Our hearts would go out to those who
were adversely affected, but it would not alter the effect”.
Google expects the following behavior from a CA:
Identity verification of the certificate requester, with a
level of assurance depending on whether it is a simple
6https://wiki.mozilla.org/CA/FAQ
7https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=
Y2hyb21pdW0ub3JnfGRldnxneDoyNjg1MWJkOWY2MmM4MzA0
8https://www.chromium.org/Home/chromium-security/root-ca-policy
4
domain server certificate or an EV.
Every certificate issued has a record associated with it.
Every certificate signed by the CA must have an entry
in the logs, which must maintain its integrity and be
audited frequently to detect unexpected behaviors.
In case of miss-issuance of a certificate, the CA must
notify all affected parties, revoke the problematic cer-
tificate and publish the revocation.
Have adequate controls in place to prevent non-
authorized access and issuance of certificates.
In case of severe compromise, perform a detailed post-
mortem analysis, fully disclosing it to the public.
Any deviation to this expected conduct, especially after a
compromise in the CA or fraudulent behavior, will end in
Google not trusting anymore in the root certificate despite
its possible trust by the operating system. Also, for Root
CAs that have shown problems in the past, Google can
make mandatory their adherence to Certificate Transparency
for all issued digital certificates, including not EV ones.
4) Mozilla Firefox: Mozilla has a root certificate program
like Microsoft and Apple. The difference with them is that
this program, the Mozilla’s CA Certificate Program, manages
the root certificate inclusion in the Network Security Services
(NSS) in contrast to a determinate operating system. This
NSS is an open source library whose goal is to help in the
security aspects of client-server applications’ development
[33]. Mozilla Firefox makes use of the NSS root certificate
store in the same way that Google Chrome uses it in some
Linux distributions [34]- [35].
The policy that governs the Mozilla CA certificate is
the Mozilla Root Store Policy9[36]. This document is a
formal policy with a narrowed scope that effectively applies
to the Root CAs or Intermediates CAs that have their
certificates distributed by Mozilla. The document contains
several sections that the CAs must follow. As a matter of
example, CAs must:
Offer a relevant service to Mozilla’s users.
Provide their services in a safe environment and enforce
appropriate access control.
Perform a detailed validation of a certificate request,
and perform corrective actions if the used method of
validation contains a security vulnerability.
Comply with the CA/Browser Forum guidelines and
requirements.
As in other cases, frequently be audited against CA
good practices defined by WebTrust or ETSI [37], by
authorized auditors.
Publicly disclose audit results, Certification Practice
Statements and other relevant documentation.
As in Microsoft policy, follow certain constraints related
to key strength and hashing algorithms (for example
RSA or ECC key size, or only using SHA-1 under
specific circumstances), and do not issue certificates
with certain forbidden characteristics.
9Current version is 2.6.1.
Satisfy with the requirements in any Intermediate CAs
capable of issuing new digital certificates.
Proceed with promptly certificate revocation.
Inform Mozilla about any material change in the CA,
like ownership transferal.
After the inclusion of a new root certificate, it is provided
to the users in the next release of NSS, specifically located
in the /usr/lib/firefox/libnssckbi.so file with the other root
certificates10.
Mozilla will determine the inclusion of a Root or Inter-
mediate CA digital certificate in its store through a public
process. However, if there is enough evidence of riskily
practices by the CA, Mozilla can deny a particular inclusion,
or remove the CA certificate from the store, at its sole
discretion.
As of February 2019, the program has 57 CA participants
[38] and 155 root certificates [39].
Interesting, Mozilla and Microsoft (including Chrome
some months ago) have developed a common CA and
root certificate database. The goal is to centralize the
communication between the CAs and both programs
[40]. (Although a CA/Browser Forum report states that
the members are Mozilla, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and
Apple11).
5) Opera: Prior to 2013, Opera had a root certificate
program as well, however, it was discontinued. After that
date, Opera started to use the root certificate store of the
operating system plus Chrome revocation information12, or
the NSS provided by Mozilla13.
6) Tor and Brave: The Tor Browser is a very specialized
web browser focused on security and privacy. With more
than 3.8×109internet users14, the roughly 2.0×106Tor
users (Tor clients actually) is orders of magnitude lower than
the other browsers15. However, due to its renown in the
computer security sphere and its commitment to security,
it is an appropriate object of study for this analysis.
Tor is built on Mozilla Firefox (almost 95% is Firefox
code16). Each Tor release is based on a previous Mozilla
Firefox ESR (Extended Support Release) release, with some
patches, preferences and functionalities specific to Tor added
by the developers17. Firefox ESR release life cycles are
longer than the common version, but these releases are more
stable, hence that choice.
Consequently, Tor relies on Mozilla’s NSS to manage the
root certificates in its web browser. Nevertheless, to avoid
10https://wiki.mozilla.org/NSS:Root certs
11https://cabforum.org/wp-content/uploads/CAB-ForumLondon-June-
2018-BrowserNews.pdf
12https://cabforum.org/wp-content/uploads/CAB-Forum-2018-10-17-
Opera-Root-Program-Update.pdf
13https://cabforum.org/browser-os-info/
14https://www.statista.com/statistics/273018/number-of-internet-users-
worldwide/
15https://metrics.torproject.org/userstats-relay-country.html
16https://blog.torproject.org/tor-heart-firefox
17https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser/design/
5
disk usage preventing data leakage, Tor stores intermediate
certificates in memory only.
Another privacy-focused, and thus potentially of interest,
web browser is Brave. Upon initial evaluation we found
that its root program decisions were mostly based on the
operating system. On Windows it relies on Microsoft, for
Apple on the Apple program, and for Linux on NSS. This is
the same behavior as any browser based on The Chromium
Project.
7) Overview: The programs examined here have more
similarities than differences. In this summation, we distin-
guish how the programs deal with core PKI challenges.
The summary of the findings is displayed in Table I.
For example, Google does not maintain a store of root
certificates. Also, Google demands the usage of Certificate
Transparency. Microsoft and Mozilla have a more detailed
Root Program Policy. In addition, the latter goes through
public reviews during the process of inclusion of CAs
certificates in its program. On the other hand, all programs
share the CA’s requirement to comply with the Baseline
Requirements and the existence of frequent audit reports.
Microsoft Apple Google Mozilla
Store MS Store Apple Store
Uses OS’s store
or NSS NSS
Extensive Root Program Policy Yes No No Yes
CAs must follow CA/Browser
Forum Baseline Requirements Yes Yes Yes18 Yes
Audit requirements for CAs Yes Yes For EV Yes
CA transfer of ownership
disclosure Yes Yes Yes18 Yes
CA must provide final report
after incident Yes No Yes Yes
Certificate Transparency
mandatory requirements No No Yes19 No
Public CA review and
inclusion decision No No No Yes20
Government CA restrictions Yes21 No No No
Accepted root certificates 38822 17823 N/A 15524
TABLE I
COM PARI SON BE TWE EN M AI N ROOT P RO GR AM S.
The three most widely used Programs have similar techni-
cal requirements for the root certification inclusion. Also, the
same operational guidelines must be followed, and the same
audits must be passed by the CA in order to get accepted.
Finally, any Program has the right to remove a root certificate
from its managed store at its sole discretion if it observes a
misbehavior in the CA or misuse of the root certificate. The
Programs uniformly and firmly claim that the inclusion of a
given root certificate must bring a benefit for the end users
of the web browser.
In our research, we mostly relied primarily on the deci-
sions of Mozilla’s Root Program for our insights into PKI.
18In these cases, Google demands it since the policy of any store used
in the device will demand it.
19All CAs for EV certificates and selected CAs for non-EV certificates.
20Mozilla maintains the right to decide for no inclusions anyways.
21.gov domains and domains under sovereign control.
2211-2018.
2302-2019.
2402-2019.
Our data compilation is grounded in Bugzilla as described in
Section V. In addition, we examined Google’s Root Program
for additional information and evidence in cases of severe
CA misbehaviors.
B. Guidelines for Certificate Authorities
Formed in 2005, the Certification Authority Browser Fo-
rum (CA/Browser Forum) is an organization that designs and
publishes guidelines regarding the issuance and management
of digital certificates (specifically X.509 v3). Its members
are representatives of CAs, web browser vendors, OSs de-
velopers and other software companies that shape the PKI
ecosystem. Table II shows the 51 CAs members. Many of
these will be studied in Section VI in our incidents’ analysis.
Additionally, in Table III the 8 internet browser vendors
members are included. As it was seen in Section III-A, some
of these have their own CA Root Program.
The guidelines of the organization focus on the technical
aspects of the digital certificates for TLS server web authen-
tication [41]. In addition, the Forum addresses procedural
requirements (Baseline Requirements, BR) for certificate
authorities that issue public (non-internal) TLS web server
authentication certificates [30]- [42]. Finally, it sets stan-
dards for EV certificates for secure connections [28] and
code-signing [43].
The Forum has been publishing EV guidelines since 2007,
with the last version (number 1.6.8) being effective since
2018. Baseline Requirements date from 2011, with the last
version being 1.6.3 from 2019. These were the latest versions
and thus the ones included at the time of this study.
Root Programs demand that Certificate Authorities comply
with these guidelines and requirements. However, these are
only minimal standards of security and good practices,
therefore, a CA is expected to have a better infrastructure,
procedures, and controls that the stated in these documents.
The level of alignment and compliance with the guide-
lines and requirements are testified by independent external
auditors to the CA, following three alternatives: WebTrust
for Certification Authorities Principles and Criteria [44],
European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)
standards ETSI TS 102 042 or ETSI TS 101 456 [37], or
the ISO standard 21188:2006 Public key infrastructure for
financial services – Practices and policy framework [45]
(although there is a newer version, ISO 21188:2018). These
statements must be public and frequent.
Although it is expected the compliance with the
CA/Browser Forum’s requirements (which are developed and
voted by the CAs themselves), in Section VI we will analyze
an alarming collection of past incidents, where CAs failed
to follow them. Moreover, we discovered issues in auditors’
reports and practices, which, given the role they play, is
utterly worrying.
6
Actalis S.p.A. ComSign GoDaddy SecureTrust
Amazon Trust Services D-TRUST GmbH Hellenic ARICA Sectigo
ANF Autoridad de Certificaci´
on DigiCert Izenpe Shanghai Electronic CA Center
AS Sertifitseerimiskeskus Digidentity Kamu Sertifikasyon Merkezi Skaitmeninio sertifikavimo centras
Buypass AS Disig KPN Corporate Market SSL.com
Camerfirma DocuSign Let’s Encrypt Swisscom
Certinomis E-TUGRA Logius PKIoverheid SwissSign AG
CERTIGNA eMudhra Technologies National Center for Digital Certification TAIWAN-CA
certSIGN Entrust Network Solutions TrustCor Systems
Certum ESG de Electronische Signatuur Open Access Technology International TURKTRUST
China Financial Certification Authority Firmaprofesional Prvni certifikacni autorita Visa
Chunghwa Telecom Co Global Digital Cybersecurity Authority QuoVadis Wells Fargo
China INIC GlobalSign Secom Trust Systems
TABLE II
CERT IFI CATI ON AU TH OR IT IE S ME MB ER S OF T HE CA/BR OWS ER FO RU M
Qihoo 360 Technology Co Ltd Google Inc
Apple Inc Microsoft Corporation
Cisco Systems Inc Mozilla Foundation
Comodo Security Solutions Opera Software AS
TABLE III
INTERNET BROWS ER SO FT WAR E VEN DO RS M EM BE RS O F TH E
CA/BROWS ER FO RU M
IV. RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The three inter-related questions in this study are about the
types, causes, and nature of failures in certificate issuance.
1) What are the most common types of incidents related
to CAs in the PKI network?
We wanted to understand the incidents based on their dif-
ferent types and severity. To be included in our study, these
incidents must have been generated by CAs.
2) What are the causes of these incidents? What led or
allowed them to happen?
Our research would be incomplete without trying to identify
the causes that generated the incidents in our compiled
dataset.
3) Are these failures in PKI technical errors in the CAs,
or is there evidence of incompetence, misbehavior, or
ethical lapses?
We wanted to determine if these incidents are merely soft-
ware or hardware failures that have repercussions in PKI.
Alternatively, are there patterns of decision-making in the
CAs that may undermine the present and future trust in PKI?
V. RESEARCH AP PROAC H
In this section we present the methods used in our re-
search, from the data gathering to the analysis.
A. Governance background
First, we detail the different root programs in the industry
and their inclusion requirements, linking that information
with the most used web browsers. The goal is to under-
stand the current governance structure and the role operators
have in the PKI. Therefore, we also surveyed the CA/BR
Forum guidelines to understand their requirements. Here we
described the data compilation in our investigation of how
and why CAs fail to comply with the published standards.
B. Data collection
For the data collection, our main source was Bugzilla25.
From that public source we got 348 of our 379 problematic
incidents related to the CAs, after an investigation of over
1300 reported “bugs” that the previous query returned to us.
There was no sample taken, and every “bug” was thoroughly
studied to check its validity and relevance for our research.
For example, we discarded “bugs” that were not related to
CAs’ incidents or where there was no consensus or enough
evidence about the failure or not on the CA side. Also, it is
important to note that a “bug” may be related to several
problematic certificates, therefore, the number of times a
Problematic CA appeared in our incidents’ collection was
a good proxy to get an idea of the number of incidents
that were detected for that CA, however, this quantity is
not the same that the actual number of, for example, digital
certificates miss-issued by that CA. The time period of these
incidents ranges from 2008 to 2019 (the deadline for our
incidents collection was the beginning of February/2019),
with an additional incident coming from 2001. No incidents
were reported via Bugzilla or any other data source used
between 2002 and 2007.
We found Bugzilla to be well suited for our research
goals, as the cause of the vulnerability is usually included
in the report. The data are also reliable. In order to
collect complementary information for each bug, we also
analyzed https://groups.google.com/forum/#!
forum/mozilla.dev.security.policy, where is
more suited to discussions than the proper bug entry, and
crt.sh where we could find the miss-issued digital cer-
tificates (which are taken from “Certificate Transparency”
logs).
In addition to that source, we used https://
25The exact query we used was: https://bugzilla.mozilla.
org/buglist.cgi?component=CA\%20Certificate\
%20Compliance\&component=CA\%20Certificate\
%20Root\%20Program\&component=CA\%20Certificates\
%20Code\&product=NSS\&query\_format=advanced\
&resolution=-- -\&resolution=FIXED\&resolution=
INVALID\&resolution=WONTFIX\&resolution=INACTIVE\
&resolution=DUPLICATE\&resolution=WORKSFORME\
&resolution=INCOMPLETE\&resolution=SUPPORT\
&resolution=EXPIRED\&resolution=MOVED\&order=
priority\%2Cbug\_severity\&limit=0
7
security.googleblog.com/ and https://blog.
mozilla.org/security/ to collect more incidents or
to gather further information about the most notorious fail-
ures.
Finally, a search of CA incidents was conducted over
the internet using common search engines, but only adding
the problems that came from trusted sources as public
disclosures from CAs, academic research or presentations by
industry. We avoided media articles without proper evidence
for rigor.
Having collected 379 incidents, we consider this number
big enough to perform correctly a qualitative study of PKI
failures, incidents and misbehaviors, and to draw valid con-
clusions about this problematic based on our findings.
C. Data classification
For each incident, we collected the following information
when possible. First, the year the incident was reported,
which in general equals to the year the incident happened.
Sometimes, a common incident in a CA lasted for several
years. In that case, we used the year when the incident
was reported. Second, the problematic root or intermediate
CA, RA, reseller or auditor, in our analysis they will be
known as Problematic CAs, and the root CA where the
problematic entity rooted or it was related, in our analysis
they will be known as problematic Root CAs. Third, the
kind of incident for that entry, for example: “1024 bits key”,
“Erroneous/Misleading Audit report”, “Fields in certificates
not compliant to BR”, “Non-BR-compliant or problematic
OCSP responder or CRL” and “Possible issuance of rogue
certificates”. Also the cause of the incident, whenever it
was stated, for example: “Software bugs”, “Believed to be
compliant/Misinterpretation/Unaware”, “Business model/CA
decision/Testing” and “Operational error”. Finally, if it was
a self-report of an incident from a CA, which in that case
showed a healthy behavior and transparency from the CA. In
section VI, the full information collected can be appreciated.
D. Data analysis
For the analysis of the data, a qualitative approach fitted
perfectly with the kind of data collected. Once we had all
the incidents collected and classified based on the different
properties and attributes explained before, we created pairs of
table-charts in order to highlight our findings. The amount of
data collected and our posterior classification provided a very
rich source for a qualitative exploration of past and present
faults in PKI, and enabled the discovery of new dimensions
and perspectives of the phenomenon previously hidden.
In section VI, we focused on the following topics. First,
general numbers about incidents and the main Problematic
CAs and the Roots CAs where they were chained to. Second,
information about the different countries of origin of these
CAs. Third, the most repeated types and causes of incidents.
Following with several perspectives studying incidents’ self-
reporting numbers and a full study year-per-year about the
Root CAs, type of incidents and their causes, with several
charts to illustrate tendencies and repetitions. Finally, rogue
certificates and their issuing CAs, rooting CAs and causes.
Further tables and charts used in our investigation can be
found in Section X, Appendix 1. Some highlighted incidents
of mis-practices can be found in Section XI, Appendix 2. In
addition, in Section XII, Annex 1, we provide a brief history
of PKI for the non-experienced reader.
We included a few Problematic CA’s auditors that were
investigated and even forbidden by some Root Programs. In
more than one occasion, these were a problematic entity in
the PKI ecosystem. Therefore, it was worthwhile including
them in this analysis.
Once the incidents’ nature and main causes are clear and
understood, better solutions could be designed to prevent
endemic or epidemic incidents.
8
Fig. 1. A glance at our database of collected incidents. (Although all the information collected in this study is publicly available, here we distorted the
CA’s names in order to maintain an impartial position with all the studied organizations)
VI. INDE P TH INCIDENTS ANALYSI S26
A. Data analysis
0) (Pre-Analysis) Issued certificates per CA:
Before starting with our analysis, we present quantities
extracted from different Certificate Transparency logs, to
provide an idea of the numbers of non-expired certificates
issued by different CAs, and to offer a grasp of who are the
“big players” in the CA market. The source of this data27
monitors several CT logs from Cloudflare, DigiCert, Google
and Sectigo.
Table IV (Fig. 2) shows the CAs that have most issued
digital certificates logged in the previously mentioned source
(to March/2019). These certificates are non-expired and CT-
qualified. At present, “Let’s Encrypt” is the most used
CA (their digital certificates are for free). Behind it come
“Sectigo”,“DigiCert” and “GoDaddy”; all of them with
more than one million digital certificates in the queried logs.
We also include several CAs with fewer certificates because
many of them will be studied in the following sections of
this work, given the incidents we collected related to them.
1) General incident numbers per CA:
We begin our analysis by describing the major offenders
to the PKI network. In Table V we show the Root CAs with
most incidents collected. For the 379 incidents found where
a Problematic CA was involved, we listed its corresponding
Root CA. In 7 of these 379 incidents, the main offender was
an auditor, therefore, we did not link these incidents to a spe-
cific root CA, since the auditor is the primarily responsible.
In this table, we can see how “DigiCert” accumulates more
incidents than any other Root CA, well beyond the rest. The
second place is for “Comodo”, now rebranded as “Sectigo”.
The third most often problematic is “Symantec”, which at
this date has been distrusted by the major Root Programs.
Its CA business was purchased by “DigiCert”, including
in the deal other brands like “Thawte”,“GeoTrust” and
“RapidSSL”.
26During the analysis the reader must remember the distinction explained
between the Problematic CAs (the CA source of the incident) and the Root
CAs (the CA where the problematic CA was rooted to).
27https://ct.cloudflare.com/ (Last access on 03/20/2019).
CA #Non-expired CT cert
Let’s Encrypt 92,300,644
Sectigo 27,859,495
DigiCert 12,577,372
GoDaddy 2,476,593
GlobalSign 680,249
Amazon 644,901
Certum 306,926
Starfield 258,734
GeoTrust 218,030
Actalis 203,603
StartCom 124,077
Entrust 98,405
VeriSign 71,102
Thawte 65,198
SECOM 63,365
Others 143,239
TABLE IV
CAS WITH MOST NON-EX PI RE D IS SU ED C ERT IFI CATE S (TO
MAR CH /2019)
In Table VI we compare the top offender Root CAs
with the other offender Root CAs, where we can conclude
that the top 10 offenders had almost the same number of
incidents that the other 67. The reason behind this situation
could be that these Root CAs have several intermediate
CAs, Resellers and Registration Authorities (RAs) linked to
them, and/or their practices are not optimal. Especially their
security controls, compliance with the Baseline and Root
Programs Requirements and monitoring of related entities
(mainly subordinate CAs).
Table VII details the CAs with most incidents studied.
These are mostly Root CAs or Intermediate CAs, but in ad-
dition to these entities, we found that Resellers and RAs are
a source of incidents as well, besides the Auditors. Three of
the four most problematic CAs -“StartCom”,“WoSign” and
“PROCERT”- had their signing digital certificate revoked
from the Root Programs, given the number of incidents
related to them and their lack of an adequate response.
Also, “VISA” was largely investigated by Mozilla, but then
this Root CA removed its certificate from Mozilla’s Root
9
Fig. 2. CAs with most non-expired issued certificates (to March/2019)
Top Root CAs #Incidents
Certinomis 11
StartCom 11
GlobalSign 11
SNCE Venezuela 12
QuoVadis 13
Camerfirma 17
WoSign 17
Symantec 18
Comodo 21
DigiCert 60
TABLE V
ROOT C AS WITH MOST INCIDENTS COLLECTED
#Incidents #CAs
Top Root CAs 191 10
Others 188 67
TABLE VI
TOP RO OT CA S IN CI DE NT R EP ORT ER S VS T HE R E ST R EP ORT IN G CAS
Program.
If we compare the concentration of incidents linked to
Root CAs and the same concentration in Problematic CAs,
we can appreciate in Table VIII that in the latter set the
incidents are more evenly distributed.
Top Problematic CAs #Incidents
SwissSign 8
Camerfirma 8
Certum 8
GoDaddy 8
VISA 9
QuoVadis 9
Comodo 11
PROCERT 12
DigiCert 12
WoSign 15
StartCom 16
TABLE VII
PROB LE MATI C CA S WITH MOST INCIDENTS COLLECTED
#Incidents #CAs
Top Problematic CAs 116 11
Others 263 131
TABLE VIII
TOP PRO BL EM ATIC C AS I NC ID E NT R EP ORT ER S VS T HE R ES T
RE PO RTI NG CAS
10
Fig. 3. Relation between the Problematic Root CAs (in the centre) and the Problematic CAs.
11
2) CAs’ countries of origin:
Our second focus is on the problematic Root CAs’ country
of location. In Table IX we observe that our Root CAs belong
to exactly 29 different countries. By far, the most common
country was US, with 12 cases. In second place comes Spain
with 7. Following these, France and Turkey were home to 5
problematic Root CAs each.
Country #CAs
Belgium, Bermuda, Canada, Colombia,
Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Ireland,
Italy, Kazakhstan, Korea, Romania,
Slovak Republic, South Africa, Venezuela 1
Hungary, Japan, Poland, Taiwan 2
Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, UK 3
China 4
France, Turkey 5
Spain 7
USA 12
TABLE IX
NUM BE R OF RO OT CA S WITH INCIDENTS PER COUNTRY
Only a handful of countries have problematic Root CAs.
However, examining the countries of origin of present Root
CAs in Mozilla’s Root Store, it can be seen that the countries
of origin of the CAs have not changed (details can be found
in Section X, Appendix 1). Thus, the past incidents and the
resulting revocation of Root CAs from Root Programs have
not had a huge impact on this aspect of the problem. For
example, no case has been considered sufficiently drastic
that a country would be prohibited from having root CAs
in Root Programs despite the use of rogue CAs in politically
motivated incidents.
Finally, there may be an issue of possible bias in that US
CAs may be subject to more scrutiny. It is also possible that
the historical distribution of servers and business causes this
concentration.
3) Types of incidents:
In relation to the type of incidents we found, we detailed
our findings in Table X. This table shows the type of incident,
the number of incidents that were not reported (disclosed by
the CA itself), the total number of incidents for a given type,
and the percentage of incidents in this category.
We believe that self-reporting any incident is a healthy
practice for a CA, and shows mature internal processes
and management. Nevertheless, the figures related to self-
reporting are disappointingly low. There are several cases
where self-reporting is not feasible; for example, the CA may
be unaware of the problem. Conversely, there were many
cases in our study where the CAs knew about their issues
and preferred to remain silent. The categories that we chose
to classify the incidents are, primarily, self explanatory and
not new for readers familiar with X.509. By far, the most
common problem is that the certificate attests to incorrect
information in a certificate field.
Specially, for the category Other we included the follow-
ing less frequent incidents:
Backdating SHA-1 certificates
Certificates for malicious domains
Charging for compromised cert revocation (HeartBleed)
CPS non-compliance
Debian OpenSSL Vulnerability
Delayed certificate revocation
Digital certificate for non-existent domain/Bad informa-
tion of requester
MITM attempt
No BR self-assessment
No disclosing another CA purchase
No test website for CA
Non-acceptable requester validation
Not allowed ECC usage
Registering competitor trademark
Self revocation
Timestamp certificate from root
Un-revoking certificates
Validity greater than 825 days
After the over one-third of the incidents related to fields
in the certificates, revocation failures dominate. OCSP re-
sponders or CRLs that are non-compliant with the Baseline
Requirements, especially the former, are in this category.
While there is no sign that these incidents are related to
unethical or dishonest practices by the CAs, it may show
that their issuing practices and alignment with the Baseline
Requirements have room for improvement. In terms of our
original research question, this is evidence of incompetence.
Based on our reading of the data, we believe that the one
reason for the number of self-reported incidents related to
12
fields in digital certificates non-compliant with the Baseline
Requirements is the introduction of Certificate Transparency.
Specifically, if fields result from incompetence or inadvertent
issuance, before Certificate Transparency each error was
handled privately. In addition to that transparency database,
the security community has developed open source tools,
called lints, that verify compliance (i.e., ZLint28,CABLint29 ,
and X509Lint30). Using lints, CAs can easily identify their
issuance of certificates with incorrect fields, so they can be
addressed on time. Besides increasing the ease of detection,
the threat of public posting may create an incentive to
correct a certificate before researchers locate it. Hopefully,
the availability of lints will improve CA practice. Of course,
it helps that these incidents (incorrect fields) are not severely
penalized by the Root Programs Owners, unless they are a
constant problem in a CA. The result is lower cost, positive
incentives, and no disincentive for correcting fields.
Incident #No Total Percentage
Fields in certificates not compliant to
BR
112 146 38.52%
Non-BR-compliant31or problematic
OCSP responder or CRL
33 39 10.29%
Erroneous/Misleading/Late/Lacking
Audit report
24 25 6.60%
Repeated/Lacking appropriate entropy
Serial Numbers
19 22 5.80%
Undisclosed SubCA 15 19 5.01%
512/1024 bits key 16 18 4.75%
Possible issuance of rogue certificates 13 18 4.75%
Use of SHA-1/MD5 hashing algorithm 13 15 3.96%
CAA32mis-issuance 12 14 3.69%
Rogue certificate 12 12 3.17%
CA/RA/SubCA/Reseller hacked 8 11 2.90%
Other 35 40 10.55%
TABLE X
MOS T RE PE ATED T YP ES O F IN CI DE NT,N UM BE R OF N OT-RE PO RTE D
INCIDENTS,AN D PE RC EN TAGE O F EAC H TY PE O F IN CI DE NT C OM PAR ED
TO TH E TOTA L
28https://github.com/zmap/zlint
29https://github.com/awslabs/certlint
30https://github.com/kroeckx/x509lint
31BR are the CA/Browser Forum’s Baseline Requirements.
32DNS Certification Authority Authorization (CAA) Resource Record,
RFC 6844.
4) The causes of incidents:
After studying the different types of incidents we classified
the causes of these incidents. As summarized in Table XI
and enumerated below, we found ten repeated categories,
some reports with no data, and nine that did not fit into
our categories. This table lists the major causes of incidents,
the rate of self-reporting for each cause, and the percentage
of each cause in relation to the total number of incidents
studied. The causes were categorized as follows.
Software bugs: In this case, the cause is a software error
or flaw that generated an incident in the PKI ecosystem.
In this case, these bugs may produce faulty certificates,
problems in OCSP responders, or erroneous checks in
a request.
Believed to be compliant/Misinterpretation/Unaware:
These causes show a lack of awareness of or failure
to comply with updates of the Baseline or the Root
Program Requirements, or misunderstanding of the con-
cepts (technical or not) behind these requirements.
Business model/CA decision/Testing: In this group, we
classified the incidents that share a common pattern.
The CA is aware of the Baseline or Root Program Re-
quirements, but places its own business strategies over
compliance with these requirements. In other words,
they prefer their near-term benefits to the health of
the PKI ecosystem. Examples of these are backdating
SHA-1 certificates in order to evade its prohibition,
charging for the revocation of compromised digital
certificates, selling certificates for Man-in-the-Middle
(MITM) attempts, and the potential (or actual) issuance
of rogue certificates. It goes without saying that this
category presented the most alarming incidents with
regarding CAs’ misbehaviors or lack of ethics.
Human error: This category is self-explanatory. These
correspond to human mistakes in manual entry of data
for certificate requests, or forgetting steps in the setup
of a new intermediate CA. This is the cause when one
specific unique employee makes an error in a process.
In one particular case, there was an erroneous self
revocation of a Sub CA33, although this is not a frequent
mistake.
Operational error: This included all the incidents that
were generated because of an internal faulty procedure
in the CA or a related entity. It could be argued that
these overlap the incidents included in the “Human
error” category. We distinguish these between mistakes
in manual one-off processes and errors in the opera-
tional processes that could not result from a specific
identifiable employee’s manual error. Examples of these
incidents are mistakes in audit reports, not disclosing
subordinate CAs, and delayed revocations of compro-
mised certificates.
Non-optimal request check: This cause refers to cases
332016-GlobalSign,
https://downloads.globalsign.com/acton/fs/blocks/showLandingPage/a/2674/
p/p-008f/t/page/fm/0
13
where the checks of an applicant for a certificate were
not performed correctly. This can, for example, enable
the generation of rogue certificates, EV certificates that
have not been verified, or, simply, improper digital
certificates. This category does not include cases re-
lated to “software bugs” or “human error”, but only
certificate requests that were not performed properly.
An example is relying on pre-defined email accounts
from the requester like “ssladministrator@...”, “sslad-
min@...”, “info@...” and “admin@...”, which are not
always secured by the email provider.
Improper security controls: Under this category, we
grouped all the incidents regarding CAs or other entities
being hacked, with the possible or actual outcome of
rogue certificates being generated and used in the wild
as a result. While it would be unreasonable to blame
a CA that is the victim of an exploitation of a zero-
day vulnerability in its platform, evidence shows that,
in general, the causes of the hacking incidents were
predictable known problems.
Change in Baseline Requirements: In this category,
there are a few incidents where a sudden change in
the BR made the CAs change their certificate issuance.
Here CAs were not compliant until they updated.
Infrastructure problem: Infrastructure problems can be
related to unavailable servers, defective networks, or
problems in the hardware. This category is for failures
of technical components that support the business of the
CA.
Organizational constraints: This category includes in-
cidents where the causes were constraints in the envi-
ronment where the CAs operated, for example, national
legal requirements. For instance, some countries require
government agencies domains to have digital certificates
provided by a national public CA, and this national
public CA is obligated to follow governmental require-
ments (as using a particular non-BR-complain encryp-
tion algorithm). Export control regimes requiring weak
certificates to non-US entities would be an example of
a requirement that weakens PKI. Thus, Root Program
owners must be flexible enough with the requirements
in these particular cases and accept some exceptions.
Other: In this category, we included less repeated
causes, like “Misconfigured software” and “Misisuances
not in sample provided to auditors”, in addition to three
incidents that were not closed at the time of writing this
work.
No data: The incidents under this category did not
provide enough information to identify their causes.
Table XI shows that almost one-quarter of the incidents are
caused by Software bugs. The second most frequent cause is
the CAs’ “lack of awareness” regarding a specific require-
ment. If it is a repeated source of incidents in a particular
CA, it may show a lack of mature internal practices; however,
this cause could be used as a “scapegoat” by a CA, trying
to justify an incident. It is reasonable to believe that the
Cause #No Total Percentage
Software bugs 67 91 24.01%
Believed to be compliant, Misinterpre-
tation, Unaware
61 69 18.21%
Business model, CA decision, Testing 47 52 13.72%
Human error 28 37 9.76%
Operational error 23 29 7.65%
Non-optimal request check 20 24 6.33%
Improper security controls 13 15 3.96%
Change in Baseline Requirements 1 7 1.85%
Infrastructure problem 6 6 1.58%
Organizational constraints 6 6 1.58%
Other 9 9 2.11%
No data 32 35 9.23%
TABLE XI
MOS T RE PE ATED C AUS E OF I NC ID EN T,NUMBER OF NOT-RE PO RTE D
INCIDENTS,AN D PE RC EN TAGE O F EAC H CAU SE O F IN CI DE NT C OM PAR ED
TO TH E TOTA L
numbers in this category are a maximum possible estimate
as much as a correct count. However, the most alarming
information from this table is that in 52 incidents, almost
14% of the total, the CAs were aware of their misalignment
with the requirements but they preferred to implement an
unaligned, more profitable business model. This dismissal
of the requirements can lead to unexpected incidents with a
systematic negative impact on the welfare of the PKI users.
Regarding self-reported incidents, Software bugs and
Change in Baseline Requirements are more prone to be
reported by the faulty CA than incidents caused by CAs’
“lack of awareness” (CAs cannot report what they do not
know) or “planned lack of alignment to the requirements”
(the consequence of this could be too harsh for the CA).
5) Types of incidents by cause:
Table XII provides a summary of the primary sources of
PKI incidents. It illustrates that the most common errors in
certificates result from problems that instantiate as incorrect
fields of the issued digital certificates. The primary reported
source of these errors is faulty CA software. In addition, bugs
have also created flaws in the OCSP responders and CRLs,
and in the CAA checks before the issuing of the certificates.
The other major source of flawed certificates is that the CA
makes an error in the issuing process. Again, these are often
excused by the CA as being a result of simple unawareness
of the compliance requirements. Sometimes the lack of
compliance is undeniably known by the CA, since incidents
of this type happened due to particular business models and
commercial decisions in a CA. There are certificates issued
erroneously from processes that were intended for testing
purposes, where an operational certificate is mistakenly is-
sued. Business decisions are causes of problems for a number
of incidents coded into the “Other” category as well. The
final common cause is human error, where people simply
enter the wrong information in a field.
The CAs’ unawareness about their lack of compliance
results not only in problematic certificate fields. Other results
from the lack of compliance have included faulty OCSP
14
responders and incorrect CRLs. In addition, CAs have failed
to notify Root Program Owners about the creation of inter-
mediate CAs through the generation of additional signing
certificates.
Another inference that we can make from the data is that
the incidents related to these organizations being hacked are
primarily the result of inadequate security measures. Despite
the Root Program Owners’ requirements for operational and
technical security, CAs have not proven highly resilient.
Finally, we can see that problems related to audit outcomes
rarely provide adequate public information to determine their
origin. These are categorized as “No data” as their cause in
our study. As a result, a customer seeking a certificate cannot
know which CA has experienced the fewest problems.
All these observations are summarized in Fig. 4.
15
Type \Cause
Believed to be compliant/
Misinterpretation/
Unaware
Business model/
CA decision/
Testing
Change
in BR
Human
error
Improper
security
controls
Infrastructure
problem
Non-optimal
request
check
Operational
error
Organizational
constraints
Software
bugs Other No
data
512/1024 bits key 0 7 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 6
CA/RA/SubCA/Reseller
hacked 0 0 0 0 10 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
CAA mis-issuance 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 9 0 1
Erroneous/Misleading/Late/Lacking
Audit report 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 3 13
Fields in certificates not compliant
to BR 27 14 5 23 0 0 9 7 3 46 2 10
Non-BR-compliant or problematic
OCSP responder or CRL 12 2 1 3 0 4 0 3 0 12 1 1
Possible issuance of rogue
certificates 1 1 0 0 2 0 7 0 0 7 0 0
Repeated/Lacking appropriate
entropy Serial Numbers 3 5 1 3 0 2 0 4 0 4 0 0
Rogue certificate 0 1 0 0 2 0 7 0 0 2 0 0
Undisclosed SubCA 9 0 0 1 0 0 0 8 0 0 0 1
Use of SHA-1/MD5
hashing algorithm 3 3 0 5 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 2
Other 6 16 0 1 0 0 0 4 2 8 2 1
TABLE XII
TYP ES O F IN CI DE NT S BY C AUS E
16
Fig. 4. Frequency of types of incidents by cause, where the type of the incident is the vertical axis and the cause of the incident is on the horizontal axis.
17
6) CAs’ reporting practices:
It is not mandatory to provide an incident report after any
incident, mis-issuance or problem in general in the CA. Yet
this may be seen as a good indicator of the CAs transparency,
practices, mature procedures, and, last but not least, its
commitment to the global welfare of the PKI network.
We found that providing a public incident report is not a
common practice for most of the CAs. However, there are a
few CAs that have the good habit of providing them.
These are only 18 out of 77 Root CAs (and auditors) stud-
ied, which is a fairly low percentage (23.38%). Interesting
enough, there are 19 Root CAs (24.67%) that had more than
3 incidents in our study that have never submitted an incident
report by themselves without being enforced or alerted by a
third party.
To better compare the CAs that have reported at least 1
incident in our study, we added Table XIII.
There we can see that “Entrust” and “KIR”34 have a
75.00% of self-reporting, 6 in 8 cases and 3 in 4 cases,
respectively. Behind them, with percentages slightly above
55.00% come “Let’s Encrypt” (4 in 7) and “SwissSign” (5
in 9). “Certigna” has a 50%, but only 2 studied incidents.
Finally, above 35% we have “QuoVadis” (38.46%) and
“DigiCert” (36.67%). In the case of “DigiCert”, it is the
Root CA that has provided more self-reports after incidents,
with 22 in 60 cases. Fig 5 highlights this information.
Root CA #No #Yes Total Percentage
Camerfirma 16 1 17 5.88%
Certigna 1 1 2 50.00%
Certum 7 3 10 30.00%
Comodo 18 3 21 14.29%
Consorci AOC 2 1 3 33.33%
DigiCert 38 22 60 36.67%
D-TRUST 3 1 4 25.00%
Entrust 2 6 8 75.00%
GlobalSign 8 3 11 27.27%
GoDaddy 6 2 8 25.00%
KIR 1 3 4 75.00%
Let’s Encrypt 3 4 7 57.14%
QuoVadis 8 5 13 38.46%
Sonera 5 1 6 16.67%
SwissSign 4 5 9 55.56%
Symantec 14 4 18 22.22%
Trustwave 2 1 3 33.33%
T-Systems 7 1 8 12.50%
TABLE XIII
ROOT C AS A ND S EL F-R EP ORT IN G CO MPA RI SO N (I NCLUDING ONLY CAS
TH AT HAVE SE LF -RE PO RTE D AT LEA ST O NE I NC ID EN T)
To conclude, note that Table XIV offers a quick compar-
ison between the set of self-reporting CAs and the set that
has never self-reported an issue. The former, those that self-
report, has 18 CAs against the 59 that form the latter. The fact
that self-reporting CAs have 212 total incidents versus the
167 in others may result from bias in public data; i.e., some
CAs do not self-report and thus may have corrected errors
before they were found by third parties. If we subtract the
34Krajowa Izba Rozliczeniowa S.A.
Fig. 5. Root CAs and self-reporting comparison (Including only CAs that
have self-reported at least one incident)
67 self-reported incidents of the first set, we have that the
non-self-reports set have those 167 not-reported incidents,
while the other group has only 145 not-reported ones. If
these non-reporting CAs identify incidents at the same rate,
then it is reasonable to believe that there are tens of incidents
not included in the data-set.
#Root
CA
#Yes
incidents
#No
incidents
Total
Self-reporting
CAs
18 67 145 212
Non-self-
reporting CAs
59 0 167 167
TABLE XIV
COMPARISON BETWEEN SELF-REPO RTI NG A ND N OT S EL F-R EP ORT IN G
CAS
The complete details can be found in Appendix 1, Table
APP1.III35, where we summarized the results of our survey
of self-disclosure. In that table, we detailed each Root CA (or
auditor) and if their studied incidents were reported/disclosed
by them or by a third entity or person. We also provided the
last column to facilitate a quick look at the percentages of
self-reporting for each CA.
35In this analysis we also included the faulty auditors found in our study.
18
7) Per year study of faulty Root and Problematic CAs:
The comparison per year of CA’s incidents shows that in
the last years the number of problematic CAs issuances has
skyrocketed. We detailed for each Root CA (or Auditor),
the number of incidents collected for each year, appended
in Table APP1.IV36. We then related this data directly to
the Problematic CAs where the incidents were generated.
(Please see Table APP1.V in Appendix 1 as well.) One
argument for this phenomenon is that the number of cer-
tificates has similarly increased; however, there has been no
corresponding growth in the number in CAs. In addition to
the lack of a increase in CAs, the code base of the entire
infrastructure has been maturing. Mature code is less likely
to have vulnerabilities or logic flaws than less tested or newly
created software [46]. Thus, increases arguably indicate
chronic difficulties in the core function of root CAs.
For each year studied, we show the number of incidents
in that year (light orange), and the accumulated number of
incidents (including the year shown) for the Root CA (grey).
For years where numerous Root CAs presented incidents,
we only added figures for the most problematic CAs (taking
into consideration the accumulated quantities). The rest of
the incidents are grouped into an “Others” group. Finally,
in the horizontal axis where the names of the Root CAs are
displayed, we wrote in bold the companies that belonged to
the set of top problematic Root CAs, as detailed in Table V.
As expected, in the chart for 2019 (the last one) only these
top problematic Root CAs appear in the chart, along with a
column for “Others”.
The oldest incident to which we could find documentation
is from 2001 and it was originated by “VeriSign”. The
second incident in our study happened seven years after that
one, precisely in 2008, adding a total of 5 incidents for that
year. The faulty Root CAs for that year were “Comodo”,
“StartCom”,“Thawte” and “VeriSign” again; all Root CAs
that would exhibit more problems in the future. See Fig. 6
for the 2008 graphical representation. Recall Verisign was
sold to Symantec because this core root CA had chronic
failures in organization, technical, and purposeful business-
driven errors.
From 2008 and onward, in every year the CAs presented
at least 1 incident. In 2009 there was only 1 incident, again
from “VeriSign”.
The next year, 2010, a total of 6 incidents were made
public, 2 from “Comodo” and “VeriSign”, and 1 from
“Certum” and “GoDaddy”; CAs that displayed a few more
incidents in the last years. Fig. 8 shows the problematic Root
CAs for that year and their accumulated number of incidents.
2011 was a unique year due to an epidemic of CAs being
hacked, and this is reflected in the reported incident. The
number of specific incidents doubled over the previous year
(from 6 to 12). In addition to the already named CAs,
new brands appear: “T ¨
URKTRUST” (inside “Others” in 9),
“KPN”,“GlobalSign” and “Entrust”.
36Whenever it was possible we used the reporting date of the incident for
this item, no matter if the reporting entity was the CA or another institution
or person.
Fig. 6. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2008
Fig. 7. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2009
Fig. 8. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2010
19
Fig. 9. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2011
Years 2012 and 2013 presented a lower number of inci-
dents compared to 2011, 5 and 2 respectively. For 2012 only
Root CAs that had their first incidents in that year added
to the total number; they were “Camerfirma”,“Chunghwa”
“Telecom” and “Trustwave”. The same happened in 2013,
with “ANSSI” and “Atos”. Fig. 10 and Fig. 11 correspond
to these years.
Fig. 10. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2012
Fig. 11. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2013
In 2014 and 2015 there were approximately 25 incidents
each year. Compared to the previous years, it was a major
change. Fig. 12 shows “Symantec”, which purchased the
chronically problematic “Verisign, and “DigiCert”, two CAs
in the top by the number of incidents. For the year 2015,
the main source of incidents was “WoSign” (another top
problematic Root CA), as can be seen in Fig. 13.
Almost 50 incidents were collected for 2016. This was
a steep increase from the previous years, (nearly doubling).
Much of these issues were caused by “WoSign” (triggering
its revocation), “Symantec” (alerting the Root Program’
Fig. 12. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2014
Fig. 13. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2015
owners about their unacceptable practices) and “DigiCert”.
A range of new CAs appeared, with one incident each, as
shown in Fig. 14. The number of incidents under “Others”
represents 14 CAs.
Fig. 14. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2016
The biggest increase from one year to another happened in
2017. For that year, we collected 135 incidents; more than
for all the previous years together and exactly three times
the sum of incidents from the previous year. “DigiCert”
was the Root CA that added more incidents for that year
by far, followed by “SNCE Venezuela”,“Comomdo” and
“Symantec”. This can be checked in Fig. 15. At this point,
the only non-top problematic Root CA in the chart was
“VeriSign”.
Fig. 15. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2017
20
Something similar can be seen for the year 2018, with
“DigiCert” leading the incident figures for that year. In
this particular year, this Root CA was related to almost a
quarter of the incidents. Other problematic Root CAs for
that year were “Camerfirma” and “QuoVadis”; see Fig. 16.
While for 2018 we collected 96 incidents, two-thirds than
in 2017, in this year we collected 23 incidents for one Root
CA, “DigiCert”; the highest number we could collect for
a Root CA in one year. At this point in time, given the
number of incidents accumulated by the top problematic
Root CAs, this chart only contains these entities and the
“Others” aggregation.
Fig. 16. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2018
Finally, for 2019 we collected 22 incidents, quite a high
figure taking into account that only events from January were
studied. If the trend in the 12 months for this year keeps
this rhythm, 2019 could set a record. Again “DigiCert” is
the Root CA associated with more incidents (5) for a given
period of time.
Fig. 17. Distribution of incidents per Root CAs - 2019 (Only January)
Specifically in relation to the Problematic CAs (where the
incidents are generated), previously in Tab. VII we showed
that the most problematic were: “DigiCert”,“PROCERT”,
“StartCom”,“WoSign”,“Comodo”,“GoDaddy”,“Quo-
Vadis”,“VISA”,“Camerfirma”,“Certum” and “Swiss-
Sign”. In Fig. 18 we can appreciate the evolution in the
number of their incidents, in contrast with the “Others”
Problematic CAs. In that chart, the number of incidents per
Problematic CA was grouped in two sets for each year. To
observe their individual evolution during the studied years,
we can look at Figures 19, 20 and 21. In these charts we
can note that these CAs have presented an important number
of incidents mostly in the last years, being “Comodo” and
“StarCom” the unique CAs that had incidents in more
than four different years. Other cases like “WoSign” and
“PROCERT”, their alarming number of incidents happened
in a lapse of time no bigger than two years; triggering their
revocation from Root Programs as a consequence of their
unacceptable practices.37
Fig. 18. Problematic CAs in the studied years
Fig. 19. Problematic CAs in the studied years (DigiCert, PROCERT,
StartCom, and WoSign)
37The charts mentioned in the paragraph do not include the incidents
collected in January/2019.
21
Fig. 20. Problematic CAs in the studied years (Comodo, GoDaddy,
QuoVadis and VISA)
Fig. 21. Problematic CAs in the studied years (Camerfirma, Certum and
SwissSign)
8) Per year comparison of causes and types of incidents:
Another study involving information segmented by year we
performed was the following.
We focused on the type of incidents and the causes of
these for each year, in addition to taking a brief look at
self-reporting figures. First, we can appreciate in Table XV
this last element, the disclosing practices. There we can
see how the practice of self-reporting incidents is becoming
more common, specially if we see the change from 2017
to the beginning of 2019 (when this study collected the
last elements), where the percentage increased from 8.15%
in 2017 (11 in 135 incidents) to 31.25% in 2018 (30 in
96 incidents) and to 54.54% in January of 2019. Fig. 22
visually displays the total number of incidents per year and
this trend in self-reporting. It would be really healthy for the
PKI welfare if these figures keep evolving in that direction.
Second, Table XVI shows the different types of incidents
per each year, and their evolution in the studied period.
There, we can see how from 2001 to 2011 mostly all the
incidents collected refer to the possible or actual issuance of
Rogue Certificates and CAs or other entities being hacked.
After this chaotic phase was overcome, with the help of
stricter requirements by the Root Program’s owners and the
emergence of the BR, comes a phase where most of the inci-
dents are related to non-compliance with these requirements:
Fig. 22. Incidents non/yes reported per year
Fields in certificates not compliant to BR (specially this
category), 512/1024 bits key,Repeated/Lacking appropriate
entropy Serial Numbers,Use of SHA-1/MD5 hashing algo-
rithm,Non-BR-compliant or problematic OCSP responder or
CRL,CAA mis-issuance,Erroneous/Misleading/Late/Lacking
Audit report and Undisclosed SubCA. However, besides all
these new incidents related to non-compliance, the possible
or actual issuance of Rogue Certificates numbers did not
diminish. Fig. 23 illustrates these findings.
We believe that the emergence of more demanding re-
quirements helped to detect problematic practices in the CAs
that were common and without control prior to these re-
quirements. Moreover, the usage of Certificate Transparency
and the new “lint” tools have enormously helped to detect
technical problems in (mis-)issued digital certificates and to
identify if these did not follow the defined requirements.
Finally, and in a similar approach than in the previous
table, in Table XVII we detailed the data collected for each
year regarding the causes of the incidents.
It can be seen that several causes generated incidents
mostly in the last years, or, more probably, these incidents
and their causes could be detected recently thanks to the new
tools and requirements. Examples of these causes are: Be-
lieved to be compliant/Misinterpretation/Unaware,Software
bugs,Human error,Infrastructure problem,Misconfigured
software,Miss-issuances not in sample,Operational error
and Organizational constraints.
In other cases like Business model/CA decision/Testing
and Non-optimal request check, these causes have been
generating incidents since the beginning of PKI usage, and,
sadly, they have not been eradicated.
Fig. 24 shows these findings.
22
2001 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
No 1 5 1 6 7 4 2 22 25 39 124 66 10
Yes 0 0 0 0 5 1 0 1 1 6 11 30 12
TABLE XV
SEL F-REPORTING INCIDENTS PER YEAR
Type of Incident 2001 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Backdating SHA-1
certificates 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0
CA/RA/SubCA/Reseller
hacked 0001900000010
CAA mis-issuance 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 12 2 0
Certificates for
malicious domains 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Charging for compromised
cert revocation
(HeartBleed) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
CPS non-compliance 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0
Digital certificate
for non-existent
domain/Bad information
of requester 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Fields in certificates not
compliant to BR 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 7 3 15 63 44 11
MITM attempt 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0
No BR self-assessment 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
No disclosing another
CA purchase 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
No test website
forCA 0000000000010
Non-BR-compliant
or problematic
OCSP responder or CRL 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 26 6 3
Not acceptable
requestor validation 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0
Possible issuance
of rogue
certificates 0 0 1 2 0 0 0 0 2 5 4 4 0
Register competitor
trademark 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Rogue certificate 1 3 0 1 0 0 0 2 5 0 0 0 0
Self revocation 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Timestamp certificate
fromroot 0000000000010
Undisclosed SubCA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 17 0
Un-revoking
certificates 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Validity greater
than 825 days 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2
Debian OpenSSL
Vulnerability 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
512/1024 bits key 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 11 2 1 1 1 0
Delayed certificate
revocation 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 4 0 1
Use of SHA-1
/MD5 hashing
algorithm 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 12 1 0 0
Erroneous/Misleading
/Late/Lacking
Audit report 00000000246121
Repeated/Lacking
appropriate entropy
Serial Numbers 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 4 2 12 1 0
Not allowed
ECCusage 0000000011103
TOTAL 1 5 1 6 12 5 2 23 26 45 135 96 22
TABLE XVI
TYPE OF INCIDENTS PER YEAR
23
Fig. 23. Type of incidents per year
Cause of Incident 2001 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Believed to be compliant/
Misinterpretation/Unaware 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 2 5 33 22 4
Software bugs 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 5 10 45 24 3
Business model/CA decision
/Testing 0 2 0 1 0 2 1 6 8 11 12 5 4
Change in BR 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 3
Human error 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 1 8 13 11 1
Improper security
controls 0 0 0 1 8 0 0 2 0 2 1 1 0
Infrastructure problem 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 2 1 0
Misconfigured software 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
Miss-issuances not
in sample 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
New Issue/No data yet 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3
No data 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 6 3 7 5 11 0
Non-optimal request
check 1213100041632
Operational error 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 15 9 2
Organizational
constraints 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 2 0
Several 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
TOTAL 1 5 1 6 12 5 2 23 26 45 135 96 22
TABLE XVII
CAUS E OF I NC ID EN TS P ER Y EA R
24
Fig. 24. Cause of incidents per year
9) Rogue certificates incidents in detail:
Our final analysis is focused on incidents related to the
issuance of Rogue Certificates. In Table XVIII we detailed
the Root CAs that have presented at least one incident where
one or more Rogue Certificates were potentially38 or actually
issued. There we can appreciate the 12 Root CAs with these
incidents. In decreasing order they are: “Comodo” with 8;
“WoSign” with 5; “GoDaddy”,“Symantec” and “VeriSign”
with 4; “DigiCert” with 2; and “CNNIC”,“DigiNotar”,
“India CCA”,“Let’s Encrypt”,“StartCom” and “Thawte”
with 1. In Section X - Appendix 1, charts about rogue
certificates are provided.
Under our study we found that in several of these cases,
after the incidents were made public CAs were distrusted
by Root Program’s Owners and, as a consequence, in some
opportunities companies closed or sold their CA business.
“CNNIC” had its certificate and the certificate of its SubCA
revoked. “Comodo” had its CA business sold to “Francisco
Partners” and rebranded to “Sectigo” (although there is
no connection in this decision with the issuance of Rogue
Certificates or other incidents). “DigiNotar” was revoked
and investigated by the Dutch government, and then closed.
38We added all the incidents that potentially may have enabled the
issuance of Rogue Certificates, but, clearly, there were incidents more
probable than others.
“India CCA” had its subCA revoked. “StartCom” was re-
voked and sold to “Certinomis”.“Symantec” was distrusted
and its CA business was sold to “DigiCert”, along with its
subCAs. “Thawte” was purchased by “VeriSign”, but the
decision did not seem to be as a result of any incident.
Identically the same happened to “VeriSign” when it was
sold to “Symantec”. Finally, “WoSign” was distrusted and
later purchased and rebranded.
Another thing that we can see in Table XVIII is that
disclosing this kind of incidents is not a common practice,
which seems evident due to the high negative impact that
this may have in the CA. Only “Comodo” (2 in 8 cases),
“DigiCert” (1 in 2 cases), “GoDaddy” (2 in 4 cases) and
“Symantec” (1 in 4 cases) have ever publicly disclosed an
incident of this type.
Table XIX crosses the Root CAs with the problematic
CAs that were directly involved in the Rogue Certificate
incidents and that were rooted in the former. In some cases
the company may be the same. We can see that except
in a few cases with direct Root CAs involvement like
“Comodo”,“GoDaddy” and “WoSign”, these incidents were
not concentrated in a particular CA. What is more, in some
cases, only one incident related to Rogue Certificates was
enough to distrust a problematic (non-Root) CA.
In Table XX we described the different causes that gener-
25
Root CA #No #Yes Total
CNNIC 1 0 1
Comodo 6 2 8
DigiCert 1 1 2
DigiNotar 1 0 1
GoDaddy 2 2 4
India CCA 1 0 1
Let’s Encrypt 1 0 1
StartCom 1 0 1
Symantec 3 1 4
Thawte 1 0 1
VeriSign 4 0 4
WoSign 5 0 5
TABLE XVIII
ROG UE CE RTI FIC ATES ,SE LF -RE PO RTI NG N UM BE RS
Root CA Problematic CAs Total
CNNIC MCS Holdings 1
CertStar 1
Comodo Comodo 6
UTN-USERFirst-HW 1
DigiCert DigiCert 1
Thawte 1
DigiNotar DigiNotar 1
GoDaddy GoDaddy 4
India CCA NIC 1
Let’s Encrypt Let’s Encrypt 1
StartCom StartCom 1
Thawte 1
Symantec CertSuperior 1
CrossCert 1
Symantec 1
Thawte Thawte 1
Equifax 1
VeriSign RapidSSL 2
VeriSign 1
WoSign StartCom 2
WoSign 3
TABLE XIX
ROOT C AS A ND PRO BL EM ATI C CAS RE LATI ON I N ROG UE CE RTI FIC ATE
INCIDENTS
ated the potential or actual issuances of Rogue Certificates.
These are the causes previously studied in this work. Based
on the data, we can say that 4 incidents were caused
by “Inappropriate Management” (Believed to be compli-
ant/Misinterpretation/Unaware and Business model/CA de-
cision/Testing), 20 incidents were caused by “Inappropri-
ate Practices” (Improper security controls and Non-optimal
request check) and 9 incidents were caused by “Technical
Flaws” (Software bugs). We believe that “Technical Flaws”
may happen to every technological component in production
environment, even to the most tested element, however,
causes like “Inappropriate Practices” and “Inappropriate
Management” should be eradicated, specially if we consider
that CAs must be aligned to the Baseline and Root Program
requirements and be frequently audited in order to prevent
this to happen, or at least to detect these incidents.
Finally, Table XXI shows the number of incidents related
to Rogue Certificates that were studied for each year. It can
Cause Total
Believed to be compliant/Misinterpretation/Unaware 1
Software bugs 9
Business model/CA decision/Testing 3
Improper security controls 5
Non-optimal request check 15
TABLE XX
CAUS ES O F ROG UE CE RTI FIC ATES
be appreciated that this issue has not been solved, since in
the last years the numbers have been fairly high compared
to the historical records, with 2015 and 2016 being the most
problematic years. In addition, we can see how this kind of
incidents seem to happen to a particular CA in a restricted
set of continuous years if it does not happen in only one year.
This may be explained in two ways: CAs solve the cause of
the incident, or they are distrusted from Root Programs. An
exception to that specific problematic range of time is the
case of “Comodo”, which was affected in six of the twelve
years studied, spanning incidents from 2008 to 2018. These
findings can be graphically appreciated in Fig. 25.
26
Root CA 2001 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
CNNIC 000000010000
Comodo 010110002201
DigiCert 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
DigiNotar 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
GoDaddy 000100000021
India CCA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Let’s Encrypt 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
StartCom 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Symantec 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 0
Thawte 010000000000
VeriSign 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
WoSign 000000002300
TOTAL 141320027544
TABLE XXI
ROG UE CE RTI FIC ATES P ER Y EA R
Fig. 25. Rogue Certificates per year
VII. PREVIOUS AND FUTURE SOLUTIONS
Regarding Root Programs’ requirements and the
CA/Browser’s Baseline Requirements, it was observed that
they are in continual improvements to fix the found holes,
or to align to current times and vulnerabilities. No set of
requirements can be complete, extensive and applicable
to every CA, therefore, it is totally understandable that
these requirements are updated reactively after negative
circumstances. Also, the continual improvements and
hardening of these requirements is a healthy display of
involvement with the network’s security, given the constant
arms-race against malicious parties.
To prevent the effective use of rogue certificates several
improvements to the PKI were designed. We briefly detailed
the most popular options, although not all of them were
finally implemented. In Section II, we also detailed some
of the last proposals to improve the PKI network that have
plenty of value to offer in the near future if they are adopted.
One of the first solutions was the use of HTTP Public
Key Pinning (HPKP) or Certificate Pinning (RFC 7469
[47]). With this mechanism, a web host would send one or
more cryptographic identities (public key or certificate) to a
user agent (web browser) in an HTTP header (for example it
can be the public key of its domain certificate, or a public key
in its chain of trust). The user agent would remember that
identity (“pin it”) for some time, comparing the provided
identity offered from the host each time the user visits it
with the pinned identity. This scheme made possible the
detection of rogue certificates; one of the most notable cases
was in “DigiNotar-2011”. However, it was deprecated by
Google and it is losing favor given that its usage is complex
and prone to errors that trigger the loss of availability in
misconfigured web sites39.
The defense mechanism that substituted Certificate Pin-
ning is Certificate Transparency (CT) (RFC 6962 [12]).
This alternative attacks miss-issuances as well. It comprises
making public a set of logs with the details of certificates
issued by CAs. Domain owners should check these logs in
order to detect rogue certificates for their sites, therefore,
it will not proactively prevent the generation of new rogue
certificates. It is a mitigating, deterrent and reactive solution,
that transfers the burden to the CAs to log every issued cer-
tificate, and to the domain owners to check rogue certificates
for their domains. With this solution, web browsers are no
more a central part in the control, but indeed they have the
power to enforce this logging policy, since they own the Root
39https://groups.google.com/a/chromium.org/forum/#!msg/blink-
dev/he9tr7p3rZ8/eNMwKPmUBAAJ
27
Programs. Although it is not mandatory to CAs the logging
of newly issued certificates in the Certificate Transparency’s
logs, some Root Programs demand it in order to trust in
the digital certificate, for example Google’s Root Program.
Signed Certificate Timestamp (SCTs) are issued each time a
CA submits a new certificate to a CT log, and, subsequently,
each SCT is added to its related certificate as evidence that
it was logged in a CT log. It is expected that in the future,
clients (for example web browsers) will be able to check
the certificates’ legitimate SCT with the use of the Expect-
CT HTTP header40. Recently, it has been very useful to
detect issued digital certificates with erroneous fields, and
CAs are using it in the pre-issuance phase to detect these
problems beforehand. In conclusion, while CT is a great
improvement to the general welfare of the PKI network,
in special with the adding of the different “lints” lately,
we do not consider that this solution is a silver bullet
against all the problems related to Problematic CAs and
it may not prevent the generation and usage of rogue
certificates, especially if the CA or the hacker does not
log a particular malicious issuance; at least in the current
state of the technology.
Microsoft has included in its Internet Explorer and Edge’s
Smart Screen some rules to detect the usage of rogue
certificates in domains visited by the users. Smart Screen
collects the certificate information of a visited website, and
then analyzes it in its servers to detect problems in the
certificate, differences with previously collected information
or differences with its Root Program data [48].
DNS Certification Authority Authorization (CAA),
RFC 6844 [49], is an approach that requires that domain
owners register in the DNS record of its domain the CA
(or CAs) that can issue digital certificates for that domain.
Since 2017, CAs should follow that field in the DNS record,
otherwise, they would be disobeying the Baseline Require-
ments. As was seen in our analysis, CAs had issued digital
certificates violating this requirement. Besides, it does not
prevent or detect miss-issued rogue certificates.
Another proposal is DNS based Authentication of
Named Entities (DANE). A similar approach to HPKP, but
instead of sending the key information in an HTTP header,
it is stored in the domain’s DNS registry. This piece of
information stored in a record in the DNS is also signed
with DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions)
to bind it to the domain. The formal definition is in the RFC
6698 ( [50]), however, it is not directly supported by the web
browsers; only through independent extensions to them.
Trust Assertions for Certificate Keys (TACK) was a
proposal that never went into production, [51]. At its draft
time, it was competing with Google’s pinning mechanism
(HPKP). These two had several characteristics in common,
however, TACK did not rely on anything related to the CA.
For example, the server would send to the client a specific
“TACK key”, instead of a public key. Besides, this “TACK
key” was the same in all the different servers that a domain
40https://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-ietf-httpbis-expect-ct-07
may have. Finally, it was proposed as an extension to TLS,
in contrast to HPKP that involved a new HTTP header.
In a crowdsourcing fashion, there were other proposals
that involved the use of “notaries” to authenticate the digital
certificates provided by the servers, like Perspectives and
Converge. These “notaries” would collect information about
certificates from different users accessing a specific domain,
therefore, if the certificate that a site offers is the same
that the one stored in the “notary” by distributed sources,
probably the user is not being a victim of an MITM attack.
But none of these ideas seems to have reached much adoption
or even reached the production phase. A variant to these
“notaries” mechanisms was MECAI (Mutually Endorsing
CA Infrastructure), were the “notaries” were also the CAs,
with the constraint that an issuing CA could not be its own
“notary” for its certificates, or “Voucher Authority”, as the
proposal referred to these entities [52].
Finally, there were/are other approaches, but, if these ideas
are not obsolete yet, most of them are through web browsers
extensions with limited adoption, instead of being important
changes to PKI that focus on the source of the problems.
Some examples are: Sovereign Keys, Certificate Patrol,
EFF SLL Observatory, MonkeySphere, AKI, Crossbear,
DoubleCheck, S-Links, DNSChain, PoliCert, DetecTor
and ICSI Certificate Notary, and a brief description can
be found in [53].
VIII. CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK
Based on the findings in our study, we could answer our
three research questions:
1) What are the most common types of incidents related
to CAs in the PKI network?
2) What are the causes of these incidents? What led or
allowed them to happen?
3) Are these failures in PKI technical errors in the CAs,
or is there enough evidence of misbehavior or lack of
ethics in their practices?
The main conclusion of the study is that Certificate
Authorities are a source of negative incidents in PKI.
Incidents originating in these entities have been increasing in
the studied lapse of time. Surprisingly, the ten Root CAs with
most incidents related to them hoarded almost half of these
incidents. Unethical or unacceptable behavior, unawareness
or business decisions, unacceptable practices or levels of
security, bugged software or human errors, and bad or flawed
verification of the certificate’s requestors are some of the
causes. While some of these origins may be understood and
accepted by the Root Programs, for example bugs in software
are hard to eradicate, cases where the problems’ source is in
a business model or a CA decision that violates the Baseline
Requirements or goes against the welfare of the PKI users
should be severely penalized in order to deter them, since we
found that it is a pervasive behavior in the CAs. It was also
noted that after an important change in the BR or in the Root
Program requirements, several CAs fail to comply with these
new requirements. The reasons behind these failures may be
28
technical errors or misbehavior and unethical practices from
the CAs.
The consequences of this phenomenon are numerous;
however, the most common type of incidents are related
to Fields in certificates not compliant with the Baseline
Requirements, caused mostly by Software bugs,Unaware-
ness in the CAs and Human errors. These incidents
became easier to be detected after the inclusion of Certificate
Transparency. The conjunction of the logging practices, the
different checks and “lint” tools, and the monitoring of the
logs have allowed an easier detection of these miss-issued
digital certificates. However, the impact in these incidents
is not very critical compared to others studied in this work.
For example, we detected that mostly the same causes that
generated the integrity problems in the certificates were also
linked to incidents in the “OCSP responders and CRLs”.
These incidents can have a worse impact on the PKI network
than a simple error in a certificate field.
From the perspective of the welfare in the PKI ecosystem,
the most critical problem that we found is the miss-issuing
of rogue certificates, especially used in MITM attacks. In
addition, we found numerous instances where they could
have been issued, based on particular problems found in the
CAs. Rogue certificate incidents were found almost every
year in our studied lapse of time. The major causes of
these incidents were Software bugs and Non-optimal request
check. It is interesting to note that, in these cases, the impact
is not only on the final users; after the detection of (in
general) non-disclosed incidents, Certificate Authorities can
face the revocation of their signing certificate and exclusion
of Root Programs, and consequently the possible end of
their business. Root CAs, subordinate CAs, Registration
Authorities and Resellers that do not meet the expected
behavior and security controls and practices are constant
sources of incidents.
Furthermore, we found that another entity that takes part
in the PKI network that has brought issues as well is the
figure of the auditor. Auditors may write erroneous audit
documents due to flaws in their audit procedures. It happens
in any kind of audit. However, non-accurate audit documents
can come since auditors are business too, and if they make a
statement claiming severe errors and unethical behaviors in a
CA, this CA may be removed from the Root Programs, thus,
the outcome would be one client less for this auditor. We
are not stating that this is a common practice in the auditors,
but indeed there is a direct conflict of interest in their role,
especially when decisions about CAs after a disclosure
tend to be binary: the CA must correct the source of the
problem, or they are removed from the programs.
We also detected that disclosing failures, no matter if they
are unintentional or product of misbehaviors, in the CAs is
not a common activity. It should be encouraged and enforced
in order to bring more transparency and security to the PKI
network. Nevertheless, it is pleasing to note that at least a few
CAs have shown an exemplary display of incident disclosure.
Another outcome of the study is the tremendous power
that Root Program’s owners have in the PKI network. With
just their independent decision they can end the business
of a CA, especially if several Root Program’s owners are
aligned with the revocation’s posture. Given that they are
also the owners of the web browsers, they are judge, jury
and executioner in the network. On the other hand, if a
misbehavior is detected in a CA but not all the program’s
owners agree with a mass removal of it, a removal by a
sole owner may have a negative impact on this owner given
the potential loss of customers that that decision may carry;
therefore, if there is no consensus between Root Program’s
owners, CAs may keep with their miss-practices.
On the side of the more positive findings are the continual
updates of the Baseline Requirements and the Root
Programs requirements, that help to maintain a healthy
PKI network. Also, the commitment that Root Program’s
owners have shown with the PKI network; although they
may have more power than in an optimal solution, they are
the only ones that are supervising and controlling the CAs’
misbehaviors and equivocations.
Regarding the present solutions, as we stated, Certificate
Transparency is a great effort to sanitize the PKI network
and its good qualities have been observed since its deploy-
ment. But inasmuch as its approach is reactive and it needs
continuous monitoring to detect CAs deviations or anomalies
in issued digital certificates, a more preventive and proactive
solution may be more desirable. New “lints” for the logs,
Root Programs making mandatory the logging of new issued
certificates and browsers demanding Signed Certificate Time-
stamps in the digital certificates are improvements in that
direction.
A particular finding regarding security solutions in PKI is
that, given the previous failures of other proposals, it seems
that the fewer changes to the PKI network the solution
brings, the more probability of acceptance and adhesion
the solution will have. In the related work section, several
promising ideas were presented.
In short, while the theoretical cryptography basis of PKI
may seem flawless, bad technical implementations, erroneous
or unacceptable operational procedures, and business inter-
ests undermine this scheme. In special, Certificate Author-
ities may present a risk to the entire network that is not
known by all the participants. Perhaps a cleaner scheme
without so many interested parties, especially the ones whose
decisions balance between bringing trust to the network or
to be more profitable, could be a better mechanism. After
all, today PKI’s network relies on these entities, and we as
end users are obliged to trust in them without any viable
alternative.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This material is based upon work supported by the Na-
tional Science Foundation under Grant No. CNS 1565375
CNS 1814518; support from a Cisco Research Award No.
1377239, and funds from the Comcast Innovation Fund.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations
expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and
do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF, Cisco, or
29
Comcast. The reporting mechanism enforced and the work
done by Mozilla, the professionals working there, and the
community in general were helpful in our research.
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X. APPENDIX 1
In Section X, Appendix 1, we detail the tables and charts
we created (in addition to the ones found in the document’s
body) to help us in our research.
A. Root program usage by web browser
Web Browser Root Store
Mozilla’s CA
Cert. Program
OS level Root Store
Microsoft Trusted Root
Cert. Program
Apple Root
Cert. Program
Uses it
Edge/IE
Chrome
Opera
Brave
Safari
Chrome
Opera
Brave
Firefox
Chrome
Opera
Tor
Brave
TABLE APP1.I
THE RO OT CE RTI FIC ATE P ROG RA MS D IS CU SS ED I N TH IS W OR K. T HE
PRO GR AM S EX IS T AT DIFF ER EN T L EV EL S AN D AP PLY TO D IS TI NC T
PRO DU CT L IN ES .
B. Root CAs and Problematic CAs (not roots of the chain)
with most incidents collected
Fig. APP1.1. Root CAs with most incidents collected
Fig. APP1.2. Problematic CAs with most incidents collected
32
Fig. APP1.3. Top Root CAs incident reporters vs the rest reporting CAs
Fig. APP1.4. Top Problematic CAs incident reporters vs the rest reporting
CAs
C. Country of origin of the studied Root CAs
ACCV Spain IdenTrust USA
Actalis Italy India CCA India
ANSSI France Izenpe Spain
Atos Germany Kamu Turkey
Belgium Root CA Belgium Kazakhstan CA Kazakhstan
Camerfirma Spain KIR Poland
Certicamara Colombia Korean LIRDI Korea
Certigna France KPN Netherlands
Certinomis France Let’s Encrypt USA
Certplus France Microsec Hungary
CertSIGN Romania NetLock Hungary
Certum Poland QuoVadis Bermuda
Chunghwa Telecom eCA Taiwan RSA USA
CNNIC China SECOM Japan
Comodo UK Sectigo UK
Consorci AOC Spain Sertifitseerimiskeskuse Estonia
Cybertrust Ireland SNCE Venezuela Venezuela
Cybertrust JP Japan Sonera Finland
Dell Inc. CA1 USA Staat der Nederlanden Root CA Netherlands
DigiCert USA StartCom China
DigiNotar Netherlands Swisscom Switzerland
Disig Slovak Republic SwissSign Switzerland
DocuSign France Symantec USA
D-TRUST Germany Thawte South Africa
EBG Elektronik Sertifika Turkey Trustis UK
E-Guven Turkey Trustwave USA
Entrust Canada T-Systems Germany
Firmaprofesional Spain T¨
UB˙
ITAK UEKAE Turkey
FNMT Spain T¨
URKTRUST Turkey
GDCA China VeriSign USA
Generalitat Valenciana CA Spain VISA USA
GeoTrust USA WISeKey Switzerland
GlobalSign USA WoSign China
GoDaddy USA
GRCA (TW) Taiwan
Hong Kong Post Hong Kong
TABLE APP1.II
ROOT C AS A ND C OU NT RY OF O RI GI N
33
Fig. APP1.5. Country of origin of problematic Root CAs. Map version
Fig. APP1.6. Country of origin of problematic Root CAs
Fig. APP1.7. Country of origin of present Root CAs in Mozilla’s Root Store
34
D. Most repeated types and causes of incidents
Fig. APP1.8. Most repeated types of incident and discrimination between
self-reporting or not
Fig. APP1.9. Distribution of the most repeated incidents
Fig. APP1.10. Most repeated cause of incident and discrimination between
self-reporting or not
Fig. APP1.11. Distribution of the most repeated causes
E. Self-reporting
35
Root CA #No #Yes Percentage
ACCV 2 0.00%
Actalis 3 0.00%
ANSSI 3 0.00%
Atos 1 0.00%
Belgium Root CA 1 0.00%
Camerfirma 16 1 5.88%
Certicamara 1 0.00%
Certigna 1 1 50.00%
Certinomis 11 0.00%
Certplus 1 0.00%
CertSIGN 2 0.00%
Certum 7 3 30.00%
Chunghwa Telecom eCA 2 0.00%
CNNIC 1 0.00%
Comodo 18 3 14.29%
Consorci AOC 2 1 33.33%
CPA Canada (Auditor) 1 0.00%
Cybertrust 2 0.00%
Cybertrust JP 1 0.00%
Dell Inc. Enterprise Issuing CA1 1 0.00%
Deloitte Anjin (Auditor) 1 0.00%
DigiCert 38 22 36.67%
DigiNotar 1 0.00%
Disig 2 0.00%
DocuSign 5 0.00%
D-TRUST 3 1 25.00%
EBG Elektronik Sertifika 3 0.00%
E-Guven 2 0.00%
Entrust 2 6 75.00%
EY HanYoung (Auditor) 1 0.00%
EY Hong Kong (Auditor) 1 0.00%
EY Poland (Auditor) 1 0.00%
Firmaprofesional 5 0.00%
FNMT 1 0.00%
GDCA 1 0.00%
Generalitat Valenciana CA 1 0.00%
GeoTrust 1 0.00%
GlobalSign 8 3 27.27%
GoDaddy 6 2 25.00%
GRCA (TW) 3 0.00%
Hong Kong Post 3 0.00%
IdenTrust 3 0.00%
India CCA 1 0.00%
Izenpe 5 0.00%
Kamu 1 0.00%
Kazakhstan CA 1 0.00%
KIR 1 3 75.00%
Korean LIRDI 1 0.00%
KPMG Samjong (Auditor) 1 0.00%
KPN 3 0.00%
Let’s Encrypt 3 4 57.14%
Microsec 2 0.00%
NetLock 2 0.00%
QuoVadis 8 5 38.46%
RSA 1 0.00%
SECOM 7 0.00%
Sectigo 1 0.00%
Sertifitseerimiskeskuse 1 0.00%
SNCE Venezuela 12 0.00%
Sonera 5 1 16.67%
Staat der Nederlanden Root CA 2 0.00%
StartCom 11 0.00%
Swisscom 3 0.00%
SwissSign 4 5 55.56%
Symantec 14 4 22.22%
Thawte 1 0.00%
Trustis 2 0.00%
Trustwave 2 1 33.33%
T-Systems 7 1 12.50%
T¨
UB˙
ITAK UEKAE 1 0.00%
T¨
URKTRUST 2 0.00%
TUViT (Auditor) 1 0.00%
VeriSign 6 0.00%
VISA 9 0.00%
WISeKey 3 0.00%
WoSign 17 0.00%
Several CAs 2 0.00%
TABLE APP1.III
LISTING OF ALL CAS ID EN TI FIE D AS H AVIN G IN CO RR EC T CE RTI FIC ATES
WI TH A N IN DI CATO R IF T HE SE W ER E SE LF -RE PO RTE D,A S WE LL A S
PE RC EN TAGE S OF E VE NT S DI SC LO SE D
Fig. APP1.12. Root CAs and self-reporting comparison
36
F. Incidents per year per Root/Problematic CA
37
Root CA 2001 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
ACCV 0000000000020
Actalis 0000000000300
ANSSI 0000001002000
Atos 0000001000000
Belgium Root CA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Camerfirma 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 7 8 0
Certicamara 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Certigna 0000000001010
Certinomis 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 3 1
Certplus 0000000100000
CertSIGN 0000000000200
Certum 0001000000243
Chunghwa Telecom eCA 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
CNNIC 0000000100000
Comodo 0102300023820
Consorci AOC 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0
CPA Canada (Auditor) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Cybertrust 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0
Cybertrust JP 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Dell Inc. CA1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Deloitte Anjin (Auditor) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
DigiCert 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 1 5 22 23 5
DigiNotar 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Disig 0000000000200
DocuSign 0000000001220
D-TRUST 0000000100210
EBG Elektronik Sertifika 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
E-Guven 0000000110000
Entrust 0000200000132
EY HanYoung (Auditor) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
EY Hong Kong (Auditor) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
EY Poland (Auditor) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Firmaprofesional 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 2 0
FNMT 0000000000010
GDCA 0000000000010
Generalitat Valenciana CA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
GeoTrust 0000000000100
GlobalSign 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 6 0 1
GoDaddy 0001000100420
GRCA(TW) 0000000000111
Hong Kong Post 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1
IdenTrust 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 0
IndiaCCA 0000000100000
Izenpe 0000000001400
Kamu 0000000000100
Kazakhstan CA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
KIR 0000000000013
Korean LIRDI 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
KPMG Samjong (Auditor) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
KPN 0000300000000
Let’s Encrypt 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 3 0
Microsec 0000000001100
NetLock 0000000000200
QuoVadis 0000000001561
RSA 0000000100000
SECOM 0000000200230
Sectigo 0000000000001
Sertifitseerimiskeskuse 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Several CAs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
SNCE Venezuela 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 9 0 0
Sonera 0000000001131
Staat der Nederlanden Root CA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0
StartCom 0100100221400
Swisscom 0000000110010
SwissSign 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 6 0
Symantec 0000000235800
Thawte 0100000000000
Trustis 0000000000200
Trustwave 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 0
T-Systems 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 4 0
T¨
UB˙
ITAK UEKAE 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
T¨
URKTRUST 0000100000100
TUViT (Auditor) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
VeriSign 1212000000000
VISA 0000000022410
WISeKey 0000000000210
WoSign 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 11 6 0 0 0
TOTAL 1 5 1 6 12 5 2 23 26 45 135 96 22
TABLE APP1.IV
INCIDENTS PER ROOT C A PE R YE AR
38
Problematic CA 2001 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
ABB 0000000000120
AC Camerfirma 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
AC Infrastructure 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0
ACCI 0000000000010
ACCV 0000000000020
Actalis 0000000100300
ADACOM 0000000000010
ADIF 0000000100000
Aetna 0000000001000
Amazon 0000000000100
AT&T 0000000000300
Atos 0000001000000
Auditor 0000000011041
Bayerische 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Bechtel 0000000000010
Belgium Root CA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0
Camerfirma 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 4 2 0
Cart˜
ao de Cidad˜
ao 0000000000100
Certicamara 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Certigna 0000000001010
Certinomis 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 3 1
CertSIGN 0000000000200
CertStar 0100000000000
CertSuperior 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Certum 0001000000232
Chunghwa Tel 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cihaz Sertifikası Hizmet Sa˘
glayıcısı 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Comodo 0001000023320
ComodoBR 0000100000000
Consorci AOC 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0
cPanelCA 0000000000100
CrossCert 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0
Cybertrust 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 1
Cybertrust JP 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Deutsche Telekom 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
DFN 0000000000110
DigiCert 0000000000363
DigiCert Federated 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
DigiCert Sdn. Bhd 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Digidentity 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
DigiNotar 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
DigitalSign 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Disig 0000000000200
DnB NOR ASA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Docapost 0000000000100
DocuSign 0000000000010
D-TRUST 0000000100210
EC-ACC 0000000000100
ECRaizEstado 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 0
E-Guven 0000000110000
EINS 0000000000010
Entrust 0000000000132
Equifax 0010000100000
e-Szigno 0000000001100
E-Tugra 0000000000030
Firmaprofesional 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 0
Fuji Xerox 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
GDCA 0000000000010
Gemnet 0000100000000
Generalitat Valenciana 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Getronics 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
GlobalSign 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 1 0 0
GoDaddy 0001000100420
GoogleTS 0000000000001
GRCA(TW) 0000000000111
GTE CyberTrust Global Root 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Hong Kong Post 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1
IdenTrust 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 0
Incapsula 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
39
Problematic CA 2001 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
InfoCert 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0
Intel 0000000000300
Intesa 0000000000300
Izenpe 0000000001400
Justica CA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
Kazakhstan CA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
KDDI 0000000000010
Keynectis 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 2 1 0
KIR 0000000000003
Korean MOI & MOE CAs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
KPN 0000100000100
Let’s Encrypt 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 3 0
LuxTrust 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
MCS Holdings 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Microsoft 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 0
MIDIGATE 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
MULTICERT 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 0
NetLock 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0
NIC 0000000100000
NII 0000000000100
No Data (undisclosed RA) 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
PROCERT 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 9 0 0
QuoVadis 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 5 1
RapidSSL 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Santander Digital Signature 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
SBCA 0000000002000
SECOM 0000000000110
Sectigo 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Sertifitseerimiskeskuse 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Servision 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Several (related to Symantec) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0
Several CAs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
Siemens 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 2 0 0
SIGNE 0000000000010
StartCom 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 4 8 0 0
StartSSL 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Swiss Government 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0
Swisscom 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0
SwissSign 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 6 0
Symantec 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 3 0 0
Szar 0000000000010
TeleSec ServerPass EV 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Telia 0000000000010
TeliaSonera 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 2 1
Terena 0000000000010
Thawte 0100000010010
TI Trust Technologies 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0
Treasure Department SSL 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Trinity Health 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Trust Italia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Trustico 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
Trustis 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0
Trustwave 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 0
T-Systems 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
T¨
UB˙
ITAK 0000000000100
T¨
URKTRUST 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
UniCredit 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0
Untuit 0000000000001
USERTrust 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
UTN - USERFirst - HW 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Verisign 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0
Verizon 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0
Virginia Tech 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
VISA 0000000022410
Vodafone 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0
VR IDENT EV 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Wells Fargo 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0
WISeKey 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 0
WoSign 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 11 3 0 0 1
Yandex 0000000000010
TOTAL 1 5 1 6 12 5 2 23 26 45 135 96 22
TABLE APP1.V
INCIDENTS PER PROB LE MATI C CA P ER Y EA R
40
G. Rogue Certificates
Fig. APP1.13. Rogue Certificates, distribution
Fig. APP1.14. Rogue Certificates, self-reporting numbers
Fig. APP1.15. Root CAs and Problematic CAs relation in Rogue Certificate
incidents
Fig. APP1.16. Causes of Rogue Certificates
41
XI. APPENDIX 2-NOTO RI O US C ASE S OF CA
MISBEHAVIOR
In this Appendix of our work, we describe some of the
most alarming misbehavior acts of our studied CAs.
1) 2008 – Comodo: An employee (actually the owner)
from StartCom (another CA) was able to get a domain
certificate for “mozilla.com” from CertStar, a Registration
Authority (RA) of Comodo. There was no validation at all
at the RA in the certificate request.
2) 2011 – DigiNotar: This is one of the most known
CA’s incidents. DigiNotar was in control of various CAs and
was the provider of the Dutch government PKI. DigiNotar’s
servers were compromised and several rogue certificates
were issued (531 known to be exact). Evidence found tied
the hacker of this breach to others in the same year, like Co-
modo’s,StartCom’s,GlobalSign’s and possibly KPN’s. The
attacks began on the first days of June and ended at the end
of July. In the middle, DigiNotar detected the intrusion but
could not stop it. Besides, the company did not disclose the
breach to the web browsers or other interested parties, and
when asked their reports were vague or misleading. The first
rogue certificate detected was for a Google domain. Almost
every OSCP request for the rogue certificates came from Iran,
so there were suspicions about an MITM attack performed in
that country. In general, the cases that came not from Iranian
IPs were Tor endpoints or VPNs. DigiNotar presented several
security vulnerabilities described in a post-mortem analysis,
for example: no antivirus in servers, no domain separation
between CAs, possible access to them from the management
LAN, weak admin passwords, software outdated and not
patched. It is strange how the company passed the required
audits and complied with the BR requirements. As a con-
sequence of the breach, DigiNotar’s root certificates were
revoked by the web browsers given that they could not know
the totality of the rogue certificates issued, the company
was investigated by the Dutch government, and, finally, it
declared bankruptcy.
3) 2011 – Entrust and GTE CyberTrust (Verizon): Dig-
iCert Sdn. Bhd, a Malayan subordinate CA of these two,
issued 22 certificates with weak keys (512 bits). These cer-
tificates also lacked a definition for the key usage. Therefore,
they were duplicated and used to sign malware. Quickly after
the finding, Microsoft, Google and Mozilla stopped trusting
in DigiCert Sdn. Bhd.
4) 2011 – T ¨
URKTRUST: An Intermediate Certificate Au-
thority of this Turkish company “mistakenly” issued two
intermediate CA certificates instead of simple ones. Over one
year after that, one of these CA certificates was used to create
a rogue certificate for google.com in order to be installed in a
reverse proxy firewall to inspect TLS traffic inside a Turkish
government office, a case of MITM. While T¨
URKTRUST
stated that the issuing of that certificate was due to an error
in the production environment and that there was no evidence
of unethical use of it, there were speculations about the
possibility that the government office was sniffing the Gmail
accounts and google.com searches of its employees. The
forge was detected by Google itself, which stopped to trust
in that intermediate CA and in T¨
URKTRUST EV certificates.
Similar measures were taken by Microsoft and Mozilla.
5) 2012 – Trustwave: Trustwave issued a subordinated
CA certificate to an organization in order to implant a Data
Loss Prevention (DLP) system (a similar scenario to 2011
- T ¨
URKTRUST, in which certificates were used for MITM
inside an organization). The certificate would live in an
HSM so Trustwave explained that there was no risk of the
certificate being stolen. However, there were suspicious about
the practice, especially in Mozilla public boards, that the cer-
tificate could be used to issue new certificates to any domain,
given that it was a subordinated CA one. Besides, there are
other mechanisms to implant a DLP without incurring in such
a risk. Right after the issue took public notice, Trustwave
made a statement saying that there was enough evidence
to trust in the HSM and in the DLP system, therefore, the
subordinated CA certificate would not be miss-used or stolen.
Nevertheless, they said they would not continue to provide
this kind of certificate to this special use anymore. There
was a lengthy discussion in Mozilla to decide whether the
Trustwave root certificate should be revoked or not, given that
their root certificate program policy may have been violated.
Finally, it was not, but it was another display of practices of
dubious ethics from a CA.
6) 2013 – ANSSI: Again, an MITM use for a digital
certificate. In this case, certificates were issued to Google’s
domains (like in 2011-T ¨
URKTRUST) by an intermediate CA
linking back to ANSSI, the French certificate authority and
national agency of computer security. Like previous cases,
Google blocked the intermediate CA certificate, restricted
the CA capabilities (ANSSI in this case) and notified other
browsers.
7) 2014 – India CCA: Another forging of Google’s cer-
tificates, maybe with MITM goals, issued by an intermediate
CA. A rogue certificate for a Yahoo!’s domain was issued as
well. In this case, the root CA was the Indian CCA, and
the intermediate CA used belonged to the NIC, National
Informatics Centre of India. The former stated that the
issuing process in the latter was compromised. Anew, Google
blocked the intermediate CA certificate, restricted the CA
capabilities (NIC in this case) and notified other browsers.
8) 2014 – CNNIC: Another MITM scenario, like in pre-
vious cases. In this opportunity, the root certificate belonged
to the China certificate authority and domain name registry,
CNNIC, and the intermediate CA was MCS Holdings. Google
identified that the private key of the intermediate CA was
misused to create rogue certificates for Google’s domains.
The private key was placed in a proxy server instead of in a
secure place. After Google detection of the rogue certificates,
it notified CNNIC and other browsers and revoked the trust
in the intermediate CA. Some days after the incident, Google
and Mozilla also stopped trusting in CNNIC certificates
(the root CA), until it followed the Certificate Transparency
project.
9) 2014 – StartCom: StartCom had a business plan where
it was issuing digital certificates for free, but charging
for their revocation. In 2014 “Heartbleed” was discovered,
42
and a massive revocation of digital certificates was needed.
There was a big discussion about the practices of StartCom,
charging for the revocation of digital certificates that may be
considered as “compromised”. While StartCom had a valid
point in its business model, it may not have provided optimal
welfare for the PKI network in these cases, where domains
may have decided to keep using faulty digital certificates in
order not to pay for their revocation.
10) 2014 – Kazakhstan Gov. Root CA: The government
of this country tried to deploy an MITM scheme for all its
citizens. For that, it tried to force the citizens to install a
national root certificate in their devices, while at the same
time it applied to root programs like Mozilla’s one. The
MITM would have been done in the national ISP, however,
due to the massive online spread and rejection of the plan,
and the denial of Root Program’s owners to include the Root
certificate in their store, the idea was canceled.
11) 2015 – WoSign: In 2015 several issues were detected
in the root CA WoSign. Two of them were related to their free
certificates’ validation process. First, this process included
testing on a port greater than 50,000 in the domain server.
This was not against the CA operation guidelines, however,
Mozilla’s root program did not allow the use of ports greater
than 1,024 for the validation. The researcher that discovered
the problem reported it to Google and it contacted WoSign,
which fixed the issue. However, the problem was never
disclosed to Mozilla as it was required by its program
policy and it did not appear in the subsequent BR audit
document. Second, if a certificate requester was in control
of a subdomain, then he could have a certificate for the
entire domain. A researcher tested this scenario with a
university’s subdomain and obtained a certificate for the
university’s main domain, and with his GitHub subdomain
(user account, account name.github.[com—io]) and got cer-
tificates for github.com, github.io, and www.github.io. The
researcher notified the issue related to GitHub to WoSign,
and they revoked the certificate. However, nothing happened
with the university certificate, therefore, the company did
not check for previous occurrences of the vulnerability.
This was not the behavior expected for a Mozilla’s CA
program participant. Besides, Mozilla was not notified of
the issue and it did not appear in the subsequent BR audit
document. Another important problem presented in WoSign
was the issuing of digital certificates with the same serial
number, due to applications’ bugs or server miss-functioning.
In other cases, duplicated certificates were issued. Even
they were contacted again by Google because the latter
identified several cases where WoSign was not following
its own Certification Practice Statement, which violates the
Baseline Requirements. Other minor problems were the use
of not recommended hashing algorithms (SHA-1 and SM2).
Finally, the last dubious practice of WoSign in 2015 was
the silently and obscure purchase of StartCom, another CA
company. The different Root Programs demand from the CAs
notifications of any transferal of ownership of CA operations.
12) 2015 Symantec: This issue was discovered by
Google. First, they detected an erroneous EV certificate is-
sued by Thawte, owned by Symantec. After notifying Syman-
tec, the latter responded that not only that certificate but
23 certificates for domains were issued for testing purposes,
without the consent of the owners. Google investigated the
problem and found that more than 23 certificates were issued.
After that, Symantec stated that 164 certificates were issued
for 76 valid domains, and 2,458 for non-registered domains.
Consequently, Google demanded a detailed post-mortem
analysis of the issue from Symantec, the action plan to
correct it, and adequate audit reports. Besides, Symantec new
certificates issued should support Certificate Transparency
after these incidents.
13) 2016 – StartCom/WoSign: WoSign and its subsidiary
StartCom (after silently purchasing it) were untrusted and
removed from root CA programs by all the major browsers.
Several incidents led to this decision. First, there was some
evidence that the patch management in WoSign servers
was far from the expected. Second, they backdated some
certificates to avoid the prohibition of using SHA-1 after
01/01/2016. Finally, StartCom was able to issue certificates
for its StartEncrypt brand, rooted in WoSign and using the
same trick of backdating to use SHA-1 after it was forbidden.
This situation also made clear that StartCom was using the
same infrastructure that WoSign, despite WoSign’s negation
about the purchasing. Therefore, after the issues of 2015 and
now these of 2016, Mozilla carried out an investigation that
concluded with the revocation of the root certificates of both
CAs and their expulsion from the browsers CA programs.
In addition, WoSign auditor (Ernst & Young - Hong Kong)
was not accepted anymore by Mozilla. Nonetheless, this
ban for WoSign was not forever and they reapplied to be
part of the programs again (with the name WoTrust). On
the other hand, StartCom closed its business. In Mozilla’s
decision there were not considered some other vulnerabilities
presented in StartCom. First, StartEncrypt had several bugs
in the validation process, which may have allowed hackers to
obtain certificates for domains they did not control. Second,
StartSSL email validation was flawed as in various other
cases.
14) 2016 – Comodo: Comodo intended to register the
trademark “Let’s Encrypt” in order to block the expansion
of the free digital certificate provider with that name.
15) 2016 – SNCE Venezuela: PROCERT, a Venezuelan
CA had several issues in 2016. These issues ranged from
certificates with weak keys to wrong information in the
certificates’ fields. Even though some of the issues were
solved in that year, much of these continued to exist in 2017.
This led to Mozilla performing an investigation. Other issues
that were discovered subsequently were: the use of internal
private names or IP addresses in the certificate fields, lack
of completeness in the certificates’ fields, noncompliance
with RFCs, bugged OCSP servers, usage of SHA-1 and non-
random serial numbers. These and other unacceptable events
related to this CA raised a final alert in Mozilla, that started
to question the appropriateness of its practices and including
the CA’s certificate in its Root Program.
43
16) 2017 – Symantec: In 2017, the accumulation of sev-
eral issues led to the revocation of Symantec’s root certificate
from all root CA programs. In addition to the problems
previously commented and some other minor issues, there
was a general lack of alignment to the BR and missing audit
reports for various Symantec’s subordinate CAs. The final
event that derived in the sanction by the Root Programs’
owners was the identification (by Google) of nearly 30,000
miss-issued certificates rooted to Symantec (Symantec denied
Google’s claim, though). The total distrust in Symantec was
led by Google. This revocation affected not only Symantec,
but also its subordinates: Thawte,GeoTrust and RapidSSL.
The distrust was planned in different phases, and the final
revocation was scheduled for October 2018. However, some
months after the planned total revocation was set by the root
programs, Symantec sold its CA business to DigiCert.
17) 2018 – Trustico: Due to Symantec’s CA problem (or
scandal), Trustico, a former reseller of it that was starting
to partner with Comodo asked DigiCert (which purchased
Symantec’s CA business) for the revocation of 50,000 digital
certificates issued by Trustico and rooted to Symantec. After
DigiCert negative arguing that there was no sign of compro-
mise in these certificates (and only the owner of the certifi-
cate could ask for its revocation), Trustico sent to DigiCert
an email with the private keys of 23,000 of these certificates.
After this “forced” compromise of the certificates, DigiCert
revoked them and contacted the certificates’ owners. This
fiasco revealed that Trustico was storing the private keys of
the certificates that they created and issued and, in addition,
it was a display of lack of ethical behavior from the company
the sending through an insecure channel as the email such a
piece of confidential information as private keys are, just to
achieve business goals. Besides, a security researcher found
a severe vulnerability in Trustico’s website right after the
issue was made public, which led to a momentary closure
of its service. Finally, there were suspicions about the mass
mail sent by DigiCert to these certificates’ owners after the
revocation. Some said that the “Baseline Requirements” state
that only the reseller can contact its customers.
18) 2018 – Several CAs: Finally, we close this list with
examples of validated and legitimate certificates issued by
CAs that are used in malicious sites, with the goal to perform
phishing attacks. This is not a new trend, phishing sites
with legal digital certificates have existed since the beginning
of the miss-conception that the padlock near the URL and
the HTTPS protocol mean that a website is the legitimate
one and also the one expected by the user. With the use of
https://crt.sh (using the wildcard ‘%’ symbol and interesting
names), we look up digital certificates issued to suspicious
sites. When we tested them, most were blocked by the
web browser (Google Chrome Version 69.0.3497.100) or by
the antivirus (Avast Free Antivirus) for they were already
reported phishing sites. Our educated guess is that the non-
blocked were because they were very new (created the same
day that we tested them, or instead for phishing they were
used for scams). The Table APP2.I is an example of our
findings.
Domain Cert ID CA Issued
cei8.stage.paypal.com 875687124 DigiCert 2018-10-19
go-paypal.com 857703714 Amazon 2018-10-13
exchange-paypal.com 877958274 Let’s Encrypt 2018-10-20
mysecurespaypal.com 857811997 Comodo 2018-10-13
iduser25653xxxxmobile-paypal.com 853166095 Comodo 2018-10-12
www.offers-paypal.com 790166353 CloudFlare 2018-09-16
github.paypal.com 871470742 DigiCert 2018-10-18
TABLE APP2.I
DIGITAL CERTIFI CATE S IN S US PI C IO US S IT ES
Again, these are just examples, not a complete list. We
tried to include as many CAs as possible, but not all the
cases we found for a given CA. These examples are related
to the legitimate site “paypal.com”, however, we tested other
promising sites and got the same CAs names that are listed in
Table APP2.I. Most of the cases involved Let’s Encrypt for it
gives digital certificates for free. We did not search for sites
using Unicode characters and punycode encoding names for
“IDN homograph attacks”. Nonetheless, we guess that there
are phishing websites using this approach with valid digital
certificates as well. In conclusion, for this last item of the
list, as long as domain registrars continue accepting new web
domains with dubious names, CAs continue issuing digital
certificates to these sites, and the general user (and some
savvy users too) continue to believe that the padlock near
the URL or the use of the HTTPS protocol mean that the
site is legitimate and secure; phishing sites will continue to
exist even with digital certificates; and as a consequence,
credentials from web users will continue to be stolen.
44
XII. ANN EX 1-TIMELINE OF MAIN EVENTS IN THE PKI
HI ST ORY
In Fig. ANNEX.1 we summed up the main events related
to PKI (some of these studied in the content of the paper
in addition to other milestones) and displayed them as a
“timeline”. The time-lapse ranges from the seventies, rapidly
jumping to the nineties, and ending with the last changes in
brands, distrusts, and guidelines and requirements versions.
We believe it can be helpful for the non-savvy reader of this
work to gain a good grasp about PKI, its main milestones
and some of its issues.
In a nutshell, we can see that the fundamental elements
that support PKI were initially developed in the nineties,
above the concept of asymmetric cryptography established
in the seventies. From 2000 to 2010, we can appreciate an
expansion in the services and goods offered in PKI and, at the
same time, further improvements in the technologies used;
some of these as responses to actual failures or visible future
problems. From 2010 to 2015, given that rogue certificates,
MITM attempts and general miss-issued digital certificates
became a constant problem and a serious undermining to
the trust in PKI, Root Program Owners and web browser
vendors started to implement and use technical solutions
to cope with these incidents. The former, web browsers,
also became stricter with the Root CAs in their programs,
and more prone to distrust them after continuous incidents
and bad practices. In recent years, we can see how these
technical countermeasures have been improved with new
features, while guidelines and requirements have continued
to be upgraded.
Given that Root Program Owners have become stricter
and that they have more tools at their disposal to detect
PKI failures from CAs, we may appreciate more frequent
Root CAs revocations from programs in the near future. As
a consequence of this, the companies behind the web browser
development and root programs may experience an increment
in the power of their decisions within the PKI network; even
more than the one that some of them may have now.
Fig. ANNEX.1. Timeline of main events in the PKI history
45
... Public Key Encryption Methods and Algorithms evolved from [14] Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman (RSA) and was premised on Integer-factorization schemes, The research looked at 379 instances of miss-issued SSL certificates from a total of over 1300 known incidents [16]. ...
... from CertStar, a Registration Authority of Comodo. There was no validation at all at the Registration Authority in the certificate request [16]. ...
... Certificate Authorities have had several slips where they issued certificates without adhering to rules. CAs have issued SSL certificates that have been used to perform man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks and intercept HTTPS traffic have been used for malware operations or CAs issued certificates without following standard procedures because of human errors, accident, or to cut costs and increase profits [16]. As long as certificate issuance remains a business, the motivation to increase profit and cut down cost is eminent. ...
... On the CA side, automation bolsters security by reducing opportunities for human error, historically a frequent cause of misissuance events [86]. The only way for Let's Encrypt to validate a domain and issue a certificate is through the normal API; there is no manual override. ...
Conference Paper
Let's Encrypt is a free, open, and automated HTTPS certificate authority (CA) created to advance HTTPS adoption to the entire Web. Since its launch in late 2015, Let's Encrypt has grown to become the world's largest HTTPS CA, accounting for more currently valid certificates than all other browser-trusted CAs combined. By January 2019, it had issued over 538~million certificates for 223~million domain names. We describe how we built Let's Encrypt, including the architecture of the CA software system (Boulder) and the structure of the organization that operates it (ISRG), and we discuss lessons learned from the experience. We also describe the design of ACME, the IETF-standard protocol we created to automate CA--server interactions and certificate issuance, and survey the diverse ecosystem of ACME clients, including Certbot, a software agent we created to automate HTTPS deployment. Finally, we measure Let's Encrypt's impact on the Web and the CA ecosystem. We hope that the success of Let's Encrypt can provide a model for further enhancements to the Web PKI and for future Internet security infrastructure.
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Conference Paper
The Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is the foundation which enables secure and trusted transactions across the Internet. PKI is subject to both continuous attacks and regular improvements; for example, advances in cryptography have led to rejections of previously trusted algorithms (i.e., SHA1, MD5). Yet there have also been organizational failures and malicious acts by trusted parties. In this work, we focus on the socio-technical components of the current X.509 PKI with the goals of better understanding its vulnerabilities, and ideally informing the implementation of future PKIs. We begin with a taxonomy of failure modes encompassing chronic, catastrophic, high impact, and frequent PKI failures. This categorization was informed by a survey of non-expert perceptions of PKI and an interdisciplinary workshop addressing the future of security in the Internet of Things. To evaluate the failure modes, we conducted qualitative interviews with policy scholars and experts in applied cryptography. We summarize the results of the survey and workshop and detail the expert interviews. Our findings indicate that there are significant failure types which neither the technical nor policy community can deeply engage separately. The underlying assumptions about the rate and severity of failure differ between these communities. Yet there is a common awareness of the vulnerabilities of the end-users: the people who are required to trust PKI to interact and engage with the Internet. We identify an urgency in mitigating such critical issues, in part because of the increasing adoption of cyberphysical systems and the Internet of Things (IoT). We conclude that there is a need for integrated organizational, policy, and technical coordination to address the chronic and potentially catastrophic risks. We introduce possible economic or regulatory solutions and highlight the key takeaways.
Preprint
Public key infrastructure (PKI) is a certificate-based technology that helps in authenticating systems identities. HTTPS/TLS relies mainly on PKI to minimize fraud over the Internet. Nowadays, websites utilize CDNs to improve user experience, performance, and resilience against cyber attacks. However, combining HTTPS/TLS with CDNs has raised new security challenges. In any PKI system, keeping private keys private is of utmost importance. However, it has become the norm for CDN-powered websites to violate that fundamental assumption. Several solutions have been proposed to make HTTPS CDN-friendly. However, protection of private keys from the very instance of generation; and how they can be made secure against exposure by malicious (CDN) administrators and malware remain unexplored. We utilize trusted execution environments to protect private keys by never exposing them to human operators or untrusted software. We design Blindfold to protect private keys in HTTPS/TLS infrastructures, including CAs, website on-premise servers, and CDNs. We implemented a prototype to assess Blindfold's performance and performed several experiments on both the micro and macro levels. We found that Blindfold slightly outperforms SoftHSM in key generation by 1% while lagging by 0.01% for certificate issuance operations.
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Public key infrastructure (PKI) is a certificate-based technology that helps in authenticating systems identities. HTTPS/TLS relies mainly on PKI to minimize fraud over the Internet. Nowadays, websites utilize CDNs to improve user experience, performance, and resilience against cyber attacks. However, combining HTTPS/TLS with CDNs has raised new security challenges. In any PKI system, keeping private keys private is of utmost importance. However, it has become the norm for CDN-powered websites to violate that fundamental assumption. Several solutions have been proposed to make HTTPS CDN-friendly. However, protection of private keys from the very instance of generation; and how they can be made secure against exposure by malicious (CDN) administrators and malware remain unexplored. We utilize trusted execution environments to protect private keys by never exposing them to human operators or untrusted software. We design Blindfold to protect private keys in HTTPS/TLS infrastructures, including CAs, website on-premise servers, and CDNs. We implemented a prototype to assess Blindfold’s performance and performed several experiments on both the micro and macro levels. We found that Blindfold slightly outperforms SoftHSM in key generation by 1% while lagging by 0.01% for certificate issuance operations.
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