Online trust is at the breaking point

IT security professionals around the globe believe the system of trust established by cryptographic keys and digital certificates, as well as the security of trillions of dollars of the world’s economy, is at the breaking point.

For the first time, half of the more than 2,300 IT security professionals surveyed by The Ponemon Institute now believe the technology behind the trust their business requires to operate is in jeopardy. 100% of organizations surveyed had responded to multiple attacks on keys and certificates over the last two years.

Research reveals that over the next two years, the risk facing every Global 5000 enterprise from attacks on keys and certificates is at least $53 million USD, an increase of 51 percent from 2013. For four years running, 100 percent of the companies surveyed said they had responded to multiple attacks on keys and certificates, and vulnerabilities have taken their toll.

“The overwhelming theme in this year’s report is that online trust is at the breaking point. And it’s no surprise. Leading researchers from FireEye, Intel, Kaspersky, and Mandiant, and many others consistently identify the misuse of key and certificates as an important part of APT and cybercriminal operations,” said Kevin Bocek, VP of Security Strategy and Threat Intelligence at Venafi. “Whether they realize it or not, every business relies upon cryptographic keys and digital certificates to operate. Without the trust established by keys and certificates, we’d be back to the Internet ‘stone age’ – not knowing if a website, device, or mobile application can be trusted.”

As risk increases, so does the number of keys and certificates: Over the last two years, the number of keys and certificates deployed on infrastructure such as web servers, network appliances, and cloud services grew more than 34 percent to almost 24,000 per enterprise. The use of more keys and certificates makes them a better target for attack. Stolen certificates sell for almost $1000 on underground marketplaces, and doubled in price in just one year. Researchers from Intel believe hacker interest is growing quickly.

Organizations are more uncertain than ever about how and where they use keys and certificates: Now 54 percent of organizations admit to not knowing where all keys and certificates are located and how they’re being used. This leads to the logical conclusion: how can any enterprise know what’s trusted or not?

Security pros worry about a Cryptoapocalypse-like event: A scenario where the standard algorithms of trust like RSA and SHA are compromised and exploited overnight is reported as the most alarming threat. Instantly transactions, payments, mobile applications, and a growing number of Internet of Things could not be trusted. Coined by researchers at Black Hat 2013, a Cryptoapocalypse would dwarf Heartbleed in scope, complexity, and time to remediate.

The misuse of enterprise mobile certificates is a lurking concern: The misuse of enterprise mobility certificates used for applications like WiFi, VPN, and MDM/EMM is a growing concern for security professionals. Misuse of enterprise mobility certificates was a close second to a Cryptoapocalypse-like event as the most alarming threat. Incidents involving enterprise mobility certificates were assessed to have the largest total impact, over $126 million, and the second largest risk. With a quickly expanding array of mobile devices and applications in enterprises, it’s no wonder why security pros are so concerned.

“With the rising tide of attacks on keys and certificates, it’s important that enterprises really understand the grave financial consequences. We couldn’t run the world’s digital economy without the system of trust they create,” said Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. “This research is incredibly timely for IT security professionals everywhere – they need a wake up call like this to realize they can no longer place blind trust in keys and certificates that are increasingly being misused by cybercriminals.”survey