In a world where the only thing standing between us and the spammers, phishers and hackers is a little piece of tunneling security that keeps IT admins dreaming about warm and snuggly things, the idea of that security being breached is a beastly demon no one could have envisioned. Unfortunately, the pleasant dreams are over and the BEAST is a nightmare that will rock the Internet world, and warm milk ain’t gonna fix this one, folks.
When I go to sleep at night, I do it with the comforting belief that when I awake in the morning and put my feet on the floor, there will be a floor underneath me. In much the same way, I traverse the web knowing full-well that my surfing habits, private information and transactions are snugly tucked away inside a warm blanket of encryption known as SSL/TLS. So when the floor gets yanked out from underneath my feet, you can understand how I might get a little pissed off. And that’s exactly how I felt this morning when I discovered that the floor that protected me from the creeps has begun to sway, as if I had just spent Saturday night at the pub and the floor wasn’t particularly happy about it.
Sing Along: It’s the End of the World as We Know it
…Or is it?
Duong and Rizzo made news last year when they unveiled a point-and-click tool that exposes private information and executes arbitrary code. According to Duong, the demo decrypted an authentication cookie used to access a PayPal account. The exploit of SSL and TLS is not a new idea, actually, since the idea was conceived back in 2002; but for years it’s been considered theoretical at best – until now, that is. Duong noted in an email published by The Register that “BEAST is different than most published attacks against HTTPS. While other attacks focus on the authenticity property of SSL, BEAST attacks the confidentiality of the protocol. As far as we know, BEAST implements the first attack that actually decrypts HTTPS requests.”
In case you’re wondering how many canned goods you have in the pantry, worry not: it’s not yet time to strip naked and run through the streets proclaiming the end of the world. “The vulnerability resides in versions 1.0 and earlier of TLS, or transport layer security, the successor to the secure sockets layer technology that serves as the internet’s foundation of trust,” The Register reports.
It’s not all good news, though. “Although versions 1.1 and 1.2 of TLS aren’t susceptible, they remain almost entirely unsupported in browsers and websites alike, making encrypted transactions on PayPal, GMail, and just about every other website vulnerable to eavesdropping by hackers who are able to control the connection between the end user and the website he’s visiting.”
Note: Those who run a web server and who may be concerned about security should modify the servers to favor the rc4-sha cipher, which is widely supported and not vulnerable to the attack unveiled by Duong and Rizzo.
Time to Call Some People Out
It’s being reported that, “Duong and Rizzo tipped off the major browser vendors about their findings months ago but so far the only response appears to have come from the folks at Chrome. A fix for the attack is currently under test in the development version of their browser.”
REALLY? Shame on you, browser makers. Not surprisingly, two days after The Register first published their article, Google released a developer version of its Chrome browser designed to thwart the attack.
Time to go and huddle in a corner. Now, where did I put that tin foil hat?