The Inconvenient Truth about Web Certificates

HTTPS is the de facto standard for securing Internet communications. Although it is widely deployed, the security provided with HTTPS in practice is dubious. HTTPS may fail to provide security for multiple reasons, mostly due to certificate-based authentication failures. Given the importance of HTTPS, we investigate the current scale and practices of HTTPS and certificate-based deployment. We provide a large-scale empirical analysis that considers the top one million most popular websites. Our results show that very few websites implement certificate-based authentication properly. In most cases, domain mismatches between certificates and websites are observed. We study the economic, legal and social aspects of the problem. We identify causes and implications of the profit-oriented attitude of CAs and show how the current economic model leads to the distribution of cheap certificates for cheap security. Finally, we suggest possible changes to improve certificate-based authentication.

Presented at:
The Workshop on Economics of Information Security (WEIS), Fairfax, Virginia, USA, June 14-15, 2011

 Record created 2011-05-10, last modified 2018-03-17

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