May 18, 2014

Analyzing Forged SSL Certificates in the Wild

IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (IEEE S&P)

By: David Huang, Alex Rice, Erling Ellingsen, Collin Jackson

Abstract

The SSL man-in-the-middle attack uses forged SSL certificates to intercept encrypted connections between clients and servers. However, due to a lack of reliable indicators, it is still unclear how commonplace these attacks occur in the wild. In this work, we have designed and implemented a method to detect the occurrence of SSL man-in-the-middle attack on a top global website, Facebook. Over 3 million real-world SSL connections to this website were analyzed. Our results indicate that 0.2% of the SSL connections analyzed were tampered with forged SSL certificates, most of them related to antivirus software and corporate-scale content filters. We have also identified some SSL connections intercepted by malware. Limitations of the method and possible defenses to such attacks are also discussed.