Cryptographic attack highlights the importance of bug-free software

Feb 29, 2012

A padlocked icon in a web-browser or a URL starting with https provides communication security over the Internet. The icon or URL indicates OpenSSL, a cryptography toolkit implementing the SSL protocol, or a similar system is being used. New research by a collaborative team has developed an attack that can circumvent the security OpenSSL should provide. The attack worked on a very specific version of the OpenSSL software, 0.9.8g, and only when a specific set of options were used.

Dr Dan Page, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol, and one of the collaborative team, will present a paper at the RSA conference in San Francisco today [Wednesday 29 February] about the EPSRC-funded research.

The attack worked by targeting a bug in the software. Carefully constructed messages were sent to the web-server, each of which triggered the bug and allowed part of a to be recovered. Using enough messages, the entire key could be recovered.

Dr Dan Page said: "Our work suggests an underlying problem. With software and hardware playing increasingly significant roles in our day-to-day life, how much can and should we trust them to be correct?

"The answer, in part at least, is a stronger emphasis on and investment in formal verification and correctness of . Our research highlights the important role this topic will play for of the future."

SSL is designed to provide two guarantees. Firstly, that a web-server accessed is the one expected, and, secondly, that subsequent communication between the user and the web-server cannot be read by anyone else.

Both guarantees are important for e-commerce websites that need to manage such as in a secure, dependable way. However, both depend on the web-server keeping various cryptographic keys secret.

OpenSSL is embedded in many platforms, particularly those based on the . Some operating system vendors have started to release advisories that prompt the upgrade of older versions of OpenSSL. This acts to limit any implications of an attack.

Explore further: Tecnalia designs an app to help elderly people get around on public transport

More information: 'Practical realisation and elimination of an ECC-related software bug attack?', B B Brumle, Aalto University, Finland; M Barbosa, Universidade do Minho, Portugal; D Page, University of Bristol, and F Vercauteren, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, Cryptology ePrint archive: report 2011/633.

Related Stories

How to Protect Your Web Server from Attacks

Oct 11, 2007

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released a new publication that provides detailed tips on how to make web servers more resistant to potential attacks. Called “Guidelines on Securing Public Web Servers,” ...

Patch for flaw in key Internet protocol

Jan 15, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A flaw was found in November in a key Internet protocol that encrypts most sensitive online transactions and communications, including credit card and banking transactions. A patch has now ...

Software Helps Developers Get Started with PIV Cards

Jul 10, 2008

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has developed two demonstration software packages that show how Personal Identity Verification (PIV) cards can be used with Windows and Linux systems to perform ...

Automated analysis of security-sensitive protocols

Oct 25, 2005

The sheer number and variety of security protocols for Internet applications under development makes it difficult to be sure that any one protocol is 100 per cent secure from attack. Now an automated tool can systematically ...

Recommended for you

Google worker shows early-draft glimpse of Chrome OS

Jul 20, 2014

The Chrome OS is in for a future look. Athena, a Chromium OS project, will bring forth the new Chrome OS user experience. Google's François Beaufort on Friday, referring to the screenshot he posted, said," ...

Google eyes Chrome on Windows laptop battery drain

Jul 19, 2014

Google Chrome on Microsoft Windows has been said to have a problem for some time but this week comes news that Google will give it the attention others think the problem quite deserves. Namely, Google is to ...

Mental-health monitoring goes mobile

Jul 16, 2014

Behavioral health analytics startup Ginger.io sees smartphones as "automated diaries" containing valuable insight into the mental well-being of people with mental illnesses.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

roboferret
not rated yet Feb 29, 2012
The title is misleading; truly bug-free software is not possible because exhaustive testing is impossible in non-trivial programs.
http://en.wikiped...theorems