FREAK attack unearths yet another SSL vulnerability



TL;DR If you're using Authentic8 Silo, you are safe from the FREAK attack. Last week, the discovery of the FREAK attack against SSL/TLS was publicly announced. FREAK is one of several serious attacks against SSL/TLS -- the encryption protocol securing most Internet communications. Other major bugs and attacks in recent years include BEAST, CRIME, Heartbleed, and POODLE.

Hackers are always looking for ways to break encryption and get access to our most valuable information. Fortunately, the good guys on the Internet are also vigilant in finding and fixing bugs and flaws in TLS. In this case it was Karthikeyan Bhargavan from INRIA in Paris and the miTLS team, who discovered the FREAK attack. If you're interested in a technical discussion of how the FREAK attack works, check out Matthew Green's write up and the research team's SmackTLS site.

In short, the FREAK attack involves a bad actor getting between you and the “secure” website you are visiting, forcing the website and your browser to accept weak encryption, cracking the encryption, then stealing your data and spying on you. There are three pieces needed to pull off the the FREAK attack:

  1. A bad actor can implement a man-in-the-middle (aka, MiTM) attack
  2. A web browser that is vulnerable to a bug that allows the RSA_EXPORT ciphers to be forced by the attacker
  3. A web server that accepts the weaker RSA_EXPORT ciphers.

Fortunately, if you use Authentic8 Silo, you don't have to worry about the FREAK attack. Silo is tougher to MiTM, does not accept RSA_EXPORT ciphers, and is not susceptible to the bug that allows an attacker to force RSA_EXPORT ciphers.

Silo runs in the cloud, making a MiTM that much harder

A bad guy trying to use the FREAK attack has to get between your web browser and the website you are trying to visit. Usually, when launching the MiTM step, the attacker will strike at the weakest point, which is either your laptop or your WiFi network, especially if you're using public WiFi like a coffee shop or hotel. When you use Silo, your web browser is running on our infrastructure in the cloud, not on the user’s machine. Getting between Silo and a website is hard because Authentic8 “moves the middle."

Silo doesn't accept RSA_EXPORT ciphers and isn't susceptible to the bug

The FREAK attack only works on browsers that are vulnerable to a bug that allows the attacker to force the downgraded RSA_EXPORT ciphers. The RSA_EXPORT ciphers weaken the TLS encryption, which enables an attacker to crack the encryption using inexpensive cloud compute resources. Nadia Heninger at the University of Pennsylvania has done researching showing how RSA_EXPORT ciphers can be cracked in about 7.5 hours for a cost of about $104 using AWS EC2 instances -- very cheap compared to the value of the data that can be siphoned off. Silo and our implementation of TLS does not accept weak ciphers like RSA_EXPORT and nor is it susceptible to the vulnerability that can force the browser to use the weak cipher.

At the time of this writing, the vulnerable browsers are:


What about the web sites that allow weak ciphers like RSA_EXPORT?

The third component of the FREAK attack is all the websites out on the Internet that have been configured to offer and accept weak ciphers like RSA_EXPORT. These vulnerable sites are not configured following best practices for security. The web site is tracking and reporting on these sites. Hopefully, the media attention around FREAK will get these companies to pay attention and improve their security.

If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that hackers will continue to find ways to undermine the security foundations of the web. We wrote about the shifting focus of attackers to target Internet infrastructure. These exploits will continue and the pressure on IT to keep up is immense. By using Silo, you keep all web-based code execution at arms length. It's our job to keep the infrastructure secure, freeing your people to do their job.

While there is no silver bullet, Silo evens the playing field by giving businesses an always current, centralized point of command and control for their online activity.