Earlier this year Lenovo got caught installing Superfish adware on its laptops. Superfish breaks open SSL/TLS encryption using forged digital certificates and unwittingly allows bad guys to exploit the digital trust they provide. Unfortunately, man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks with forged certificates are nothing new.
The SSL/TLS trust model is designed to protect communications end-to-end. But Lenovo inserted the Superfish CA certificate as trusted, meaning that all of the MITM certificates were trusted within the browser, thereby exposing users to insecure sites or interception of private communications. Whilst Lenovo admitted its mistake and claims to no longer ship adware, it is clear that the system of trust established by keys and certificates is under attack.
Keys and certificates were designed to be like the biological tags in living cells – identifying what’s safe and trusted. However, we left out one thing it seems: an immune system to keep up with what really is trusted. There’s a lot we can learn from our human immune system and apply to the cyber realm.