Why Your Organization Should Replace All TLS Certificates Issued by Symantec

October 2018 is a crucial month for anyone owning a website as two of the world’s biggest browsers, Chrome and Firefox, will “distrust” TLS certificates issued by Symantec.

What Is a TLS Certificate?

TLS stands for Transport Layer Security. This technology is meant to keep the internet connection secure by encrypting the information sent between the website and the browser, preventing cybercriminals from reading and modifying any information that’s being transferred.

The more popular TLS isn’t free. A website owner has to buy this technology – referred to as TLS certificate – from any of the companies trusted by browsers. Symantec was once a trusted issuer of TLS certificates by Google, the owner of Chrome, and Mozilla, the organization behind Firefox.

HTTPS, which stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure, appears in the URL when a website uses a TLS certificate. Google has also been rewarding websites using TLS certificates with improved web rankings. As of July 2018, according to Mozilla, 3.5% of the top 1 million websites were still using Symantec TLS certificates.

When a visitor attempts to connect to a website, the browser used by the visitor requests the site to identify itself. The site then sends the browser a copy of its TLS certificate. The browser, in return, checks if this TLS certificate is a trusted one. If the browser finds that the TLS certificate can be trusted, the browser then sends back a digitally signed acknowledgment to start the TLS encrypted session.

Reasons Behind the Distrust of Symantec TLS Certificates

In March 2017, Ryan Sleevi, software engineer at Google Chrome, posted on an online forumGoogle’s findings, alleging that Symantec failed to properly validate TLS certificates. Sleevi said that Symantec mis-issued 30,000 TLS certificates over a period spanning several years.

“Symantec allowed at least four parties access to their infrastructure in a way to cause certificate issuance, did not sufficiently oversee these capabilities as required and expected, and when presented with evidence of these organizations’ failure to abide to the appropriate standard of care, failed to disclose such information in a timely manner or to identify the significance of the issues reported to them,” Sleevi said.

Symantec, for its part, said that Google’s allegations are “exaggerated and misleading”. “Google’s statements about our issuance practices and the scope of our past mis-issuances are exaggerated and misleading,” Symantec said. “For example, Google’s claim that we have mis-issued 30,000 SSL/TLS certificates is not true. In the event Google is referring to, 127 certificates – not 30,000 – were identified as mis-issued, and they resulted in no consumer harm. We have taken extensive remediation measures to correct this situation, immediately terminated the involved partner’s appointment as a registration authority (RA), and in a move to strengthen the trust of Symantec-issued SSL/TLS certificates, announced the discontinuation of our RA program.”

Mozilla, for its part, conducted its own investigation surrounding Symantec’s issuance of TLS certificates. Mozilla said it found a set of issueswith Symantec TLS certificates. A consensus proposalwas reached among multiple browser makers, including Google and Mozilla, for a gradual distrust of Symantec TLS certificates.

On October 31, 2017, DigiCert, Inc. acquired Symantec’s website security business, and on December 1, 2017 DigiCert took over the validation and replacement of all Symantec TLS certificates, including TLS certificates issued by Symantec’s subsidiaries: Thawte, GeoTrust and RapidSSL.

“DigiCert will replace all affected certificates at no cost,” DigiCertsaid in a statement. “Additionally, you don’t need to switch to a new account/platform. Continue to use your current Symantec account to replace and order your SSL/TLS certificates.” 

Implications of the Distrust of Symantec TLS Certificates

Mozillasets October 23, 2018 as the distrust date of all TLS certificates issued by Symantec. Googlesets October 16, 2018 as the distrust date for all TLS certificates issued by Symantec to non-enterprise users, while January 1, 2019 is the distrust date set by Google for all TLS certificates issued by Symantec to enterprise users. Apple, the owner of the Safari browser, sets “Fall 2018” as the date of complete distrust of Symantec TLS certificates.

In the case of Chrome, if website owners fail to replace their Symantec TLS certificates beyond the prescribed period by Google, the message below will be shown instead:

chrome tls warning

Image by Google

In the case of Firefox, the message below will be shown instead:

firefox tls warning

Image by Mozilla

As can be gleaned from the distrust notices by Google and Mozilla, failure to replace Symantec TLS certificates runs the risk of attackers trying to steal information from your organization’s website, including passwords, messages and credit card details.

According to Mozilla, whenever it connects to a website, it verifies that the TLS certificate presented by the website is valid and that the site’s encryption is strong enough to adequately protect the privacy of the visitor. If Firefox determines that the TLS certificate can’t be validated or if the encryption isn’t strong enough, the connection to the website will be stopped and instead, the message, “Your connection is not secure” will be shown, Mozilla said.

“When this error occurs, it indicates that the owners of the website need to work with their certificate authority to correct the policy problem,” Mozilla added. 

Contact us today if your organization needs assistance in replacing legacy Symantec TLS certificates.