Newly discovered security vulnerability in the SSL/TLS protocol, dubbed as “FREAK” poses potential risks for millions of people surfing the web on Apple, Google and Microsoft browsers.
A whole range of browsers including Internet Explorer, chrome for Mac OS and Android , Apple browsers and about 12% of popular websites like Bloomberg.com, kohls.com, mit.edu have been found to be vulnerable.
The flaw would allow a “man in the middle” attack which can downgrade security of connections between vulnerable clients/servers by tricking them into using low strength “export grade RSA” , thus rendering TLS security useless.
This 512 bit export grade mode of cryptography can then be easily cracked to compromise the privacy of users, by stealing passwords and other personal information. Larger attacks on the Web sites could be launched as well.
Computing power worth 100 dollars and seven hours is all that is required for a skilled code breaker to crack it.
The flaw was exposed by a team of researchers at INRIA and Microsoft Research who named it as “FREAK” for Factoring attack on RSA-EXPORT Keys.
The “export grade” RSA ciphers resulted from the 1980s policy of the US government which required US software makers to use weaker security in encryption programs which were shipped to other countries. It was meant to facilitate internet eavesdropping for intelligence agencies to monitor foreign traffic. These restrictions were lifted in the late 1990s, but the weaker encryption got wired into widely used software that percolated throughout the world and back into US.
Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union said, “You cannot have a secure and an insecure mode at the same time… What we’ve seen is that those flaws will ultimately impact all users.”
This reveals that a weaker crypto-policy ultimately exposes all parties to hackers and serves a strong argument against the recent requests of the US and European politicians to enable new set of backdoors in established systems.
Apple said its fix for both mobiles and computers will be available next week and Google said it has provided an update to device makers and wireless carriers.
For web server providers , the way ahead entails disabling support for all export cipher and known insecure ciphers.
A full list of vulnerable sites is available here.