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*** Breaking SSL Security News ***

Yes, major hacks of huge enterprises are disconcerting and deserve attention. But what’s perhaps even more distressing is an Internet-wide trend of security best-practices neglect. Consider this: an eye-popping 35% of websites are using an SSL certificate with the outdated, proven-unsafe Secure Hashing Algorithm 1 (SHA-1) algorithm. That’s a total of 61 million websites.


  • More than 1/3 of websites use a bad cert
  • Should you be very afraid of SHA-1?
  • Must-know info on the various SHA types
  • Why are we hitting the SHA-2 migration PANIC-BUTTON?




It’s easy for people to point fingers when it comes to Internet security. After all, like a FAIL video, it provides a sort of dark entertainment to look at the very public embarrassments of large enterprises and others that have been hacked. From Sony to Target, from Home Depot to the US State Department to worldwide financial institutions, breaches in security have become so commonplace that people often forget their incredible cost, in terms of loss of business (think Sony being thrown almost completely off the Internet) and loss of reputation (think Anthem, which states on its homepage, “Anthem is a trusted health insurance plan provider” – well, maybe).


The focus on these huge companies makes us forget the extent to which all companies are at risk, including simple blogs, startups, and other SMBs. Let’s look at a specific way that websites are making their users’ data vulnerable, making it clear how critical SSL upgrading today really is.


More than 1/3 of websites use a bad cert

Amazingly, a study by cryptographic key protection firm Venafi reveals that 35 percent of sites globally continue to use a no-longer-secure Secure Hashing Algorithm 1 (SHA-1) SSL certificate. That’s true even though major browser companies – including Apple, Google, Mozilla, and Microsoft – stated that they would not support these certs starting in February 2017.


What exactly does that mean? Well, first, it should be understood that February 2017 is not a deadline to change these certificates. The deadline is today – SHA-1 is no longer secure.


However, just for further motivation, these are the typical messages and signs a user will see (with variations dependent on browser) when SHA-1 is officially no longer supported – as indicated by Help Net Security on November 21, 2016:


  • Crossed out lock icon and https (in address bar);
  • “Privacy error”;
  • “Your connection is not private”;
  • “Attackers might be trying to steal your information from Your Site in Bold (for example, passwords, messages, or credit cards).”


All of these warnings are traffic disruptions, which translates into a threat to your profits. When users see warnings like these, they will go to a competitor. They won’t see the comforting and recognizable padlock. In fact, the site could even become inaccessible.


Should you be very afraid of SHA-1?

Now, really, if you do think you might still have an SHA-1 SSL cert in place, it should motivate you that your site is currently not considered secure and that changing the cert to an affordable, easy-to-install SHA-2 cert is urgent and follows best-practices. However, it should further motivate you that you’ll be advertised by your users’ own software (the browser) that your site is no longer secure.


Regardless of whether you are convinced this SSL switcheroo is necessary, the end result, since not everyone will be informed, is problems. SHA-1-retaining sites will suffer huge hits to user experience (UX) and ballooning of support calls, along with potentially substantial losses in revenue and credibility.


Venafi’s cloud services manager Walter Goulet noted that the big, high-traffic sites have left for the security New World of SHA-2, but many sites are still using SHA-1. “According to Netcraft’s September 2016 Web Server Survey, there are over 173 million active websites on the Internet,” he said. “Extrapolating from our results, as many as 61 million websites may still be using SHA-1 certificates.”


That’s the exposure, but what’s the specific threat? Hackers can potentially crack Secure Hashing Algorithm 1, rendering it useless – in other words, open access to data. Gordon E. Moore’s theory on the speed of data growth, Moore’s Law, says that overall processing power for computers will double every two years. Electronic Frontier Foundation Board Member Bruce Schneier has framed this issue in terms of dollars on his blog:

  • It takes 2^74 processing cycles to hack the SHA-1 algorithm with the strongest tools available. Those cycles can be converted into time.
  • The approximate cost would be $2.77 million to use public cloud to brute-force-attack SHA-1. That’s not really a lot, depending on the target – and the number is falling fast.
  • The expectation is that it could cost just $43,000 to run a hack of SHA-1 by 2021. Even at that point, to just methodically run through the numbers for a successful hack, it would take 7 years.
  • While seven years may seem like a mini-eternity (well, it’s half a dog’s life), the issue is one of scale. Stronger, better-future-proofed algorithms such as SHA-2, SHA-3, and AES256 can take centuries or millennia to hack. A cackling evildoer might put together a slave botnet of computing power that would help him/her run that algorithm much more quickly, perhaps in less than a month for the right price. “That is precisely what the American NSA, the British GCHQ, and the Chinese military are doing now,” advised PCrisk on November 21, 2016. “Hence there is some risk.”


Must-know info on the various SHA types


Secure Hashing Algorithm 1 (SHA-1) is an encryption algorithm – in other words, a set of steps a computer takes to scramble and thus conceal information. It encrypts data going in and out of a site that’s enabled for HTTPS protocol by an SSL certificate.


So far, so good, right? Well, SHA-1 means well. However, it has known vulnerabilities. SHA-2 and SHA-3 are taking its place. As indicated above, SHA-1 will no longer be accepted by major browsers from February 2017 forward; and it is not currently considered to abide by security best-practices today – accelerating the drive to next-gen SHA-2 SSL certificates.


The fact is that this transition away from SHA-1 has been a long time coming but never completely caught on. Part of the difficulty with upgrading was that SHA-1 was the most commonly used hash, until recently lacking support by a vast range of devices and software. In fact, the NSA-devised SHA-1 hash is more than two decades old, first issued as a standard by the federal government in 1995.


SHA-2 is not exactly brand-new. It became the hashing standard all the way back in 2002. To understand the improved complexity of SHA-2, it’s actually sometimes considered a family of hashes because of its various bit sizes – especially 224, 256, 384, and 512. So, SHA-2 is not a set number of bits, explained security architect Roger A. Grimes in InfoWorld, but the overwhelming majority of certs in this category have a 256-bit type. “Although SHA-2 is constantly attacked and minor weaknesses are noted, in crypto-speak, it’s considered ‘strong,’” he said. “Without question, it’s way better than SHA-1, which experts believe will be fallible in the near term.”


Why are we hitting the SHA-2 migration PANIC-BUTTON?

Grimes was a bellwether for moving to SHA-2 back in January 2015. He said at the time that the challenge of migrating to the new hash would be figuring out which devices and programs work with it. To jumpstart this process, create an inventory of all devices, operating systems, and apps that must support SHA-2. Test that a system does work. Don’t assume that vendor attestations will be accurate.


“Upgrading your applications and devices will not be trivial and probably take longer than you think,” said Grimes. “Migrating from SHA-1 to SHA-2 isn’t hard technically, but it’s a massive logistical change with tons of repercussions and requires lots of testing.” Your internal public key infrastructure (PKI) should be updated to support SHA-2 also.



Are you concerned about the topics discussed in this article? At Total Server Solutions, we offer premium, name brand certificates from market leader Symantec. Upgrade today to SHA-2 SSL.