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Google Chrome Ups the Ante for Certificate Transparency

Google Chrome Ups the Ante for Certificate Transparency

November 9, 2016 | Scott Carter

Google aims to make it much harder for attackers to hide in encrypted traffic. How? A recent announcement from the Google Chrome development team outlines plans to make Certificate Transparency mandatory for website domain certificates issued after October 2017. As reported in The Stack, “New domain certificates with unclear, compromised or otherwise unmonitorable chains of trust will thereafter be accompanied by at least a warning to Google Chrome viewers.”

Certificate Transparency makes it much more difficult for cybercriminals to issue fraudulent certificates for legitimate sites. By exposing all certificates to public scrutiny, Certificate Transparency effectively reduces the time to detect compromised certificates. Previously, these rogue certificates may have remained active (and therefore dangerous) during the days, or even months, that it takes to propagate traditional updates.

Venafi Chief Security Strategist Kevin Bocek lauds Google’s decision to require full transparency for its Chrome browser. “I’m happy to see that Google and the industry are waking up to the impact and risks connected with abuse digital certificates to our economy. Our whole online world relies on the system of trust provided by certificates. Publishing all certificates issued by public CAs to Certificate Transparency (CT) logs will help to reduce fraud and abuse of the system.”

But in many ways this is just the beginning of the war against certificate misuse. Bocek warns that, “while it is great that Google is increasing visibility and transparency in to the operations of CAs around the world, this addresses only part of the problem.”

In recent years we have started to see the trust in any one certificate erode because of fraud, theft, and misuse. The reality is that as our reliance on encryption increases, threats involving certificates are becoming more frequent. Just look at the global certificate authority WoSign, who were caught backdating SHA-1 certificates just last month. This type of behavior undermines the entire global system of trust that runs commerce today.

The challenges of using digital certificates today extend well beyond the legitimacy of their issuance. It’s an even bigger problem when certificates are stolen, misconfigured, or abused. Detecting these type of malicious activity requires even closer scrutiny. Initiatives like Certificate Reputation, built on data from certificate transparency, will help organizations determine if certificates should be trusted at any point in their lifecycle.

How can you take your protection above and beyond Certificate Transparency? Bocek recommends, “Companies need to make sure they can establish the visibility and intelligence necessary to evaluate digital certificates in real time – they will only become more and more important to security and privacy.”

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About the author

Scott Carter
Scott Carter

Scott Carter writes for Venafi's blog and is an expert in machine identity protection.

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