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      • Certificate Authority Authorization Checking: What is it, and why should you care?

        Aug 30 2017, 6:12 PM

        by Lee-Lin Thye 0

        Certificate Authority Authorization checking: what is it, and why should you care?

        The Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) ecosystem relies on root certificates issued by various certification authorities (CAs) like Symantec. This is what browsers use to decide which websites can be trusted, and which ones are not trusted.

        Up to now, any CA can issue a TLS certificate for any domain. That’s how the system works, and it’s good in the sense that it gives website owners and operators options to change CAs at their discretion. The downside to this is that certificate issuance can happen without the knowledge of website operators, either by mistake or intentionally by malicious actors.

        A number of technologies have been created in an attempt to highlight instances of “unknown” issuance, such as Certificate Transparency. These have been effective in making the internet a safer, more trustworthy place but they are reactionary measures – only .allowing website operators to address the issue after it’s happened.

        But is it possible to prevent certificates from being mistakenly or inappropriately issued? Yes. Enter: Certification Authority Authorization (CAA).

        CAA prevents unknown certificate issuance by:

        1.Allowing domain owners to specify which CAs are authorized to issue certificates for their domains; and

        2.Giving CAs the ability to check this authorization before issuing a certificate.

        In this article, we’ll explain how CAA works, and why making CAA checking mandatory is a good move for both customers and CAs.

        What is Certification Authority Authorization?

        A Certification Authority Authorization (CAA) record is a DNS Resource Record which allows a domain owner to specify which CAs are authorized to issue certificates for their domain(s) and, by implication, which aren’t.

        The idea is that a CA will check the CAA record(s) for a domain before issuing a certificate. If it finds that a domain has no CAA record, then it’s free to issue a certificate for it if all other authentication checks succeed. However, if it does encounter one or more CAA records, then the CA can only issue a certificate if it’s named in one of the records, indicating that it is authorized to issue a certificate for that domain. The whole process is designed to prevent CAs from unauthorized certificate issuance requests by unauthorized parties or bad actors.

        Sounds great. Why isn’t everyone doing this?

        Symantec has been checking CAA records for years, but it’s not a common practice. There are two reasons why CAA checking isn’t widely practiced:

        1.Many domains don’t have a CAA Resource Record; and

        2.Checking CAA records is not mandatory.

        Because it may take some work to create a CAA record, it’s a matter of customers or website operators consciously opting-in, not opting-out. Many domain owners use a DNS hosting provider and CAA is not yet supported in some DNS implementations.

        This is why CAA records are expected to be used by most high-value domains. These enterprises keep CAA records for their domains because they limit inappropriate (or malicious) certificate requests, and makes it easier to enforce company policies i.e. only using a particular set of CAs.

        The limitations of CAA checking

        Of course, CAA checking has its limitations.

        First, a newly-issued CAA record does not invalidate any previously-issued certificates that may have been issued by a different CA than the one named by the domain owner. Second, it doesn’t flag whether a certificate presented by a web server is a legitimate certificate for that domain.

        Furthermore, in order for CAA checking to be effective, all CAs need to be doing it; it doesn’t work if only one or two CAs are checking CAA records as matter of process. CAA checking must be widely adopted if it is to serve its purpose, but the good news is that more than ninety percent of CAs (who are members of the CA/Browser Forum) are in favor of it.

        The times are changing: CAA checking will become mandatory

        In February 2017, the CA/Browser Forum passed a ballot (on which Symantec voted in favor) requiring all CAs (even those who aren’t a member of the Forum) to check for a CAA record as part of the certificate issuance process for each domain. In accordance with RFC 6844, CAs can no longer issue a certificate for a domain unless:

        1.The CA does not find any CAA records for the domain

        2.The certificate request is consistent with the applicable CAA Resource Record(s)

        The rule is effective as of 8 September 2017. You can read the ballot in full here.

        A good outcome for all companies

        Mandatory CAA record checking requires CAs to abide by the rules set out in specific CAA records, giving domain owners more control over certificate issuance. This makes it easier for companies (especially larger ones) to enforce a certificate issuance policy across business units. With CAA records applicable to every domain, a company can specify a set number of CAs, knowing no other CA can issue a certificate to its domains.  This will help reduce the risks of certificate issuance by unauthorized CAs and help create a more secure and transparent online ecosystem.

        For more information on CAA with Symantec Certificates go to Symantec Knowledge Center

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      • A New Chapter: DigiCert to Acquire Symantec’s Website Security and Related PKI Solutions

        Mar 29 2018, 8:53 PM

        by Roxane Divol 0

        Today, Symantec announced in a press release an agreement under which DigiCert will acquire Symantec’s Website Security and related PKI solutions. At a time when it’s absolutely critical that businesses are safeguarded from the advanced cyber security threats infiltrating the web, through this acquisition customers will benefit from a company that is solely focused on delivering the leading identity and encryption solutions they require.

        DigiCert is a leading provider of scalable identity and encryption solutions for the enterprise. The fast-growing company currently has a number of high-profile enterprise and IoT customers. DigiCert enjoys a strong reputation and high customer loyalty with a focus on industry-leading customer support, innovative market solutions, and a meaningful contribution to improving industry best practices. DigiCert has earned several awards for its innovation and growth strategies, and this summer was named one of Computerworld’s Top 100 places to work in IT.

        The addition of Symantec’s website security and related PKI solutions to DigiCert’s offerings will provide customers with an enhanced technology platform, unparalleled support and market-leading innovations. DigiCert will have incredible talent and experience to lead the next generation of global website security and will gain capabilities to take advantage of opportunities in IoT and bring new approaches to the SSL market.

        Symantec Website Security and DigiCert share a strong commitment to customer service, and ensuring continuity for our customers and their businesses is a top priority. Once the transaction is complete, we will work to transition our customers to a new platform that meets all industry standards and browser requirements and provides the foundation for future innovation in the CA space.

        Importantly, we feel confident that this agreement will satisfy the needs of the browser community. DigiCert is communicating this deal and its intentions to the browser community and will continue to work closely with them during the period leading up to our closing the transaction. DigiCert appreciates and shares the browsers’ commitment to engendering trust in digital certificates and protecting all users.

        Last but not least, I’d be remiss to not personally thank each and every one of the hard-working and dedicated employees of the Website Security team. We are tremendously excited about the opportunities ahead and deeply committed to the success of this transition for the Website Security business, its employees, and our customers.

        Best Regards,

        Roxane Divol

        Executive Vice President & GM, Symantec Website Security 

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