Cyberattacks misusing keys and certificates increased in 2015
These attacks had a wide range of impacts, including phishing, MITM attacks, car apps, refrigerators, and more
In 2016, protecting keys and certificates must not be seen as merely an operations issue, but as a security priority
We correctly called 6 of the 8 predictions we made for 2015, which isn't bad (see our 2015 Retrospective Part 1). But we were absolutely 100% accurate on our overall prediction that attacks impacting the foundation of online trust—cryptographic keys and digital certificates—would increase. Looking back through 2015, Venafi Labs captured data on a steady stream of cyberattacks involving the misuse of keys and certificates, threatening the underlying foundation of trust for everything that is IP-based.
The attacks in 2015 show a continued increase in the misuse of keys and certificates. They also show how keys and certificates have become interwoven into many aspects of our business and personal lives. From airline Internet services to laptop software to government certificate authorities (CAs) to apps for your car or your fridge to Google and banking sites, keys and certificates secure all our online transactions.
Here is a sample of some notable security incidents the Venafi Labs threat research team followed:
Gogo Dished Up Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks
To kick off the year, a Google Chrome engineer discovered that Gogo Inflight Internet service was issuing fake Google certificates. Gogo claimed it was trying to prevent online video streaming, but this practice ultimately exposed Gogo users to MITM attacks.
Lenovo Pre-installed Superfish Malware on Laptop
Lenovo found that an adware program it was pre-installing on laptops was making itself an unrestricted root certificate authority, which allowed for MITM attacks on standard consumer PCs.
New SSL/TLS Vulnerability Logjam Exposed Crypto Weaknesses
Logjam exposed a problem with the Diffie-Hellman key exchange algorithm, which allows protocols such as HTTPS, SSH, IPsec, and others to negotiate a shared key and create a secure connection. Identified by university researchers, the Logjam flaw allowed MITM attacks by downgrading vulnerable TLS connections.
GM’s OnStar and Other Car Apps Were Hacked
A GM OnStar system hack that locks, unlocks, starts, and stops GM cars was made possible because the GM application did not properly validate security certificates. By planting a cheap, homemade WiFi hotspot device somewhere on the car’s body to capture commands sent from the user’s smartphone to the car, hackers could break into the car’s vulnerable system, take full control, and behave as the driver indefinitely. Similar weaknesses allowed hacks in iOS applications for BMW, Mercedes, and Chrysler.
This list of attacks that leveraged stolen, compromised, and/or unprotected cryptographic keys and digital certificates in 2015 highlights a wide range of potential impacts from attacks on trust, but is by no means a comprehensive list. In truth, many of these attacks go on undetected: cybercriminals use keys and certificates to bypass security controls and hide their actions.
Businesses need to understand that key and certificate management is not just an operations issue—it is critical to securing their networks, data, and trust relationships with customers and partners. The problem is compounded given that most Global 5000 organizations blindly trust the keys and certificates deployed on their networks and use security controls designed to trust these encryption components. There is an evil force out there in the cyber realm, lurking in the shadows that no one sees—until it’s too late. Without the ability to tell friend vs. foe, good vs. bad in the digital realm, our global economy is in a perilous situation.
And we think the misuse of keys and certificates will grow. Check out our predictions for 2016 to see how we think attacks on online trust will evolve in the upcoming year.
Want to find out your organization’s risk level from unprotected keys and certificates? Venafi can help. Contact us and we’ll set up an assessment for your business.