Google distrusts “widely trusted” Symantec root certificate

Google has removed trust for a Symantec root certificate that could be used to intercept web communications from the search company’s users.

Google’s trust issues for Symantec’s digital certificates have cropped up again following it putting Symantec on notice over 23 mis-issued test certificates for Google domains in October.

This time Google says it’s taking “proactive measures” to address Symantec’s “Class 3 Public Primary Certification Authority (CA)” in response to Symantec retiring its “VeriSign G1 roots” for issuing certificates for encrypting connections between websites and browsers (SSL/TLS) on December 1. Symantec acquired VeriSign's certificate business in 2010.

Symantec has told Google that it will continue using the CA to support enterprise customers’ private networking needs.

Still, the the roots don’t comply with rules under the the CA/Browser Forum’s Baseline Requirements for certificates trusted publicly by browsers.

As a result, Google said it will distrust one of several CA root certificates Symantec holds in its Chrome browser, Android mobile operating system and other Google products.

“Failure to comply with these represents an unacceptable risk to users of Google products,” said Google software engineer Ryan Sleevi.

Google put Symantec on notice in October after detecting mis-issued certificates, that could be used to spoof Google sites. In this case however the search company is responding to Symantec’s cautionary advice.

“As Symantec is unwilling to specify the new purposes for these certificates, and as they are aware of the risk to Google’s users, they have requested that Google take preventative action by removing and distrusting this root certificate,” said Ryan Sleevi, a Google software engineer.

There may also be an impact to non-Google platforms, including Chrome and rival browsers on Microsoft Windows and Apple’s OS X for Mac desktops.

“This step is necessary because this root certificate is widely trusted on platforms such as Android, Windows, and versions of OS X prior to OS X 10.11, and thus certificates Symantec issues under this root certificate would otherwise be treated as trustworthy,” said Sleevi.

That issue may already have been addressed by major browser makers like Microsoft, Mozilla, Apple and Opera.

A Symantec spokeswoman told CSO Australia that it had notified major browsers in November, including Google, “that they should remove or untrust a legacy root certificate from their lists”.

“We advised this action because this particular root certificate is based on older, lower-strength security that is no longer recommended, hasn’t been used to generate new certificates in several years, and will now be repurposed to provide transition support for some of our enterprise customers’ legacy, non-public applications,” she said.

“By announcing that they will be blocking this root certificate, Google has indicated that they intend to do exactly as we requested, a step that other browsers started taking in 2014.”

Google has published public key and fingerprint details of the affected root in a blog post.

Read more: Territoriality, denial confounding chances at IT-security improvement, risk expert warns

Symantec has posted a technical note highlighting the affected roots are used in certificates for encrypting connections between websites and browsers (SSL/TLS) and are also used for signing code in applications.

“Browsers may remove TLS/SSL support for certificates issued from these roots… For Code Signing, it has not yet been determined when platforms will remove or untrust these roots,” the security company said.

It’s likely users of Google product won’t be affected when connecting to a site that has been secured with a Symantec root. According to Sleevi, Symantec has assured Google it does not believe the chance will impact people who attempt to access sites secured with Symantec certificates.


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