More Secure SSL? Not Really.

What is the issue with SSL? It turns out that, despite all the good intentions in past, one can get a web server certificate while remaining pretty much anonymous. So you go to a Web site (like https://example.com), see a padlock and consider the connection secure. It is indeed secure from confidentiality and integrity point of view, but should you trust the Web server?


Apparently not. Which is why commercial CAs and Microsoft came up with something called Extended Validation SSL certificates. Read about it here (Microsoft) and here (Verisign). The difference between what we mostly see today and what’s proposed is more thorough verification of the applicant (for example, scrutinisation of the incorporation papers), and green-coloured address bar in Internet Explorer (Customer Confidence in the Green Address Bar – Verisign).


Extended Validation SSL certificated is a bad idea, and it will fail to achieve new levels of security. Here’s why:


  • EV SSL certificates are very expensive (outrageously expensive, in Verisign’s case) – prohibitive to small and medium businesses;
  • So most Web sited will continue to use traditional SSL certificates and will be no less trusted;
  • Because, for some reason, customers like me don’t establish trust based on the fact that a certificate is issued by a CA that happens to come pre-installed in my browser’s trust list;
  • Historically, the idea of commercial CA first, and then the idea of certificate classes (Class 3 is better than Class 1), were designed to create trust based on technical means – and that didn’t work, thus the requirement for EV certificates

In fact, DNS, Web search and social networks remain the most reliable sources of Web trust.


Oh, and there’s one other thing. Reading through the Verisign EV SSL brochure, one might ask – why are they still pushing SGC certificates? SGC, or Server Gateway Crypto, was invented as a workaround for the US cryptography export restrictions that were effectively lifted almost 10 years ago. There’s nobody who’s still using browsers that support SGC but don’t support full strong encryption.


And another question is – how in the world a particular SSL certificate can “enable” strong encryption? I thought that SSL certificate is used for RSA key exchange but the length of the stream encryption key (using 128-bit RC4, or 256-bit AES symmetric key encryption, and the likes) is not dependent on the length of the certificate key (like 1024-bit RSA key). 128-bit SSL Certificates doesn’t make much sense to me. Where am I mistaken?

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