A new project that was setup to monitor the quality and strength of the SSL implementations on top sites across the Internet found that 75 percent of them are vulnerable to the BEAST SSL attack and that just 10 percent of the sites surveyed should be considered secure.
The SSL Pulse project, set up by the Trustworthy Internet Movement, looks at several components of each site’s SSL implementation to determine how secure the site actually is. The project looks at how each site is configured, which versions of the TLS and SSL protocols the site supports, whether the site is vulnerable to the BEAST or insecure renegotiation attacks and other factors. The data that the SSL Pulse project has gathered thus far shows that the vast majority of the 200,000 sites the project is surveying need some serious help in fixing their SSL implementations.
There is quite a bit of alarming data in what the project has gathered, and one of those pieces of information is that more than 148,000 of the sites surveyed are vulnerable to the BEAST attack, which was developed by researchers Juliano Rizzo and Thai Duong and disclosed last year. Their attack uses what’s known as a chosen-plaintext attack against the AES implementation in the TLS 1.0 protocol and enables them to use a custom tool they wrote to steal and decrypt supposedly secure HTTPS cookies. The attacker can then hijack the victim’s secure SSL session with a site such as an e-commerce site or online banking site.
The BEAST attack is complex, but it’s a serious concern and the fact that three quarters of the top sites that the project surveyed are still vulnerable to the attack is troubling. Sites can protect against the attack by implementing mitigations in their TLS 1.0 deployments, including configuring their servers to only use the RC4 cipher during TLS 1.0 or SSL 3.0 sessions.
The other major concern in the data compiled by the SSL Pulse survey is that a third of the sites still support SSL 2.0, a protocol that is considered insecure. Experts recommend that sites not use SSL 2.0 at all because of its weaknesses.
The Trustworthy Internet Movement, formed earlier this year and backed by Qualys CEO Philippe Courtot, boasts a task force that comprises some of the top SSL experts in the industry, including Ivan Ristic of Qualys, Moxie Marlinspike of Whisper Systems and Twitter and Adam Langley of Google.
Ristic said in a blog post that while the data compiled by the survey is not definitive, it’s a good indication of what’s happening on the sites secured by SSL.
“Looking at the SSL Labs grades, which are designed to sum up the quality of SSL configuration, we can see that about 50% (99,903 sites) got an A, which is a good result. Previous global SSL Labs surveys reported about 33% well-configured sites, which means that more popular sites are better configured. Unfortunately, many of these A-grade sites (still) support insecure renegotiation (8,522 sites, or 8.5% of the well-configured ones) or are vulnerable to the BEAST attack (72,357 sites, or 72.4% of the well-configured ones). This leaves us with only 19,024 sites (or 9.59% of all sites) that are genuinely secure at this level of analysis,” Ristic wrote.