Thu Jan 29 16:54:12 CET 2009

Thank you

This year's Chaos Communication Congress, better known as 25C3, was an exceptional event in many ways. It begins with a program committee that attracted so many interesting people over the last years that they had ample material to select from, and they did a very good job of that too. Accordingly, the quality and spectrum of the presentations was significantly above many other conferences and we all need to thank the people that put up the program. And while I'm still not done seeing all the video recordings of all presentations, there have been quite a number of highlights.

The hard working organizers and Engel of the CCC apparently are by now so well trained in running a Congress that it almost appeared as stress-less routine to the casual observer. I've never been to a Congress with less shouting and less chaos in terms of organization, and despite the event's name, I think that's a good sign. They even somehow managed to handle the insane amount of people showing up, which, as DEFCON attendees will surely know, is quite a challenge by itself.

And then of course there were the presentations, above all Alexander Sotirov and Jacob Applebaum with their successful creation of a rogue SSL CA certificate. The work shows how the combination of academia research with the practical experience and dedication of world class security professionals can achieve something that was considered a theoretical attack. It also shows how much of a pipe dream the perceived security of browser based communication over SSL/TLS actually is. If all but one trusted CAs belong to the same publicly traded commercial entity, they don't actually need to fulfill their security promise anymore, because they have a monopoly.

The purpose of a publicly traded corporation is to maximize the profit for the share holders*. And if selling certificate signatures generates enough revenue to get your stocks rated as "buy", you did your job. If you need to revoke a large part of these certificates, because you failed to react to previously published research on vulnerabilities in them (MD5), this is similar to a call back of your product and would therefore hurt your reputation on the stock markets. If you however just ignore the problem as long as you can and then trust that very few people will actually understand the problem so it doesn't impact your sales, you can even offer remedy at no additional cost and look good in the press. From a business point of view, that is a remarkable containment stunt. From a security point of view, it's devastating. Not only does it show that revocation simply does not work, but also that the one entity that must be extremely strict with revocation actually doesn't follow it at all.

Interestingly enough, this proves two points made by Dan Kaminsky. The first is about how much of a defense SSL actually is in the light of vulnerabilities like his DNS issue from summer 2008. Dan said in his presentation at BlackHat that SSL proved to be much less of a defense than we all thought it would be. The second point is actually less obvious: The much debated partial disclosure approach Dan followed had a very interesting positive side to it that nobody saw before. The big difference between Alex's and Jake's big-bang presentation and Dan's long process of informing selected people gradually over time is the learning effect they had on all the other people. I think after that summer, we security professionals will not hear that old argument of a vulnerability not being critical because the attacker would need to control DNS in order to exploit it very often anymore. On the other hand, I don't see anyone reviewing their security perception of the trust model that so-called secure web sites are build on. Everyone is just happy that the issue got "fixed" so quickly. I for one have not realized that aspect of making a big fuzz about something enhancing its long term educational value before, and I certainly thank Dan for teaching that lesson to me.

Speaking of thanks, my fellow Phenoelit members, above all Mumpi, need to be thanked too for the awesome party they put on. That also includes DJ Vela and CMOS for playing at that event and in CMOS' case for flying all the way into Berlin to do so. And last but not least, I would like to thank the audience of the 25C3, which again was one of the smartest I had the privilege to speak in front of. I apologize for the suboptimal delivery of the Cisco IOS presentation to everyone who saw it, if you found a stray "Erm" in what I said, you may keep it.

* You could argue that this is the case with any corporation, but working at Recurity Labs, I can tell you it isn't.

Posted by FX | Permanent link | File under: events