35% of websites still using insecure SHA-1 certificates

35 percent of the world’s websites are still using insecure SHA-1 certificates, according to Venafi. This is despite the fact that leading browser providers, such as Microsoft, Mozilla and Google, have publicly stated they will no longer trust sites that use SHA-1 from early 2017. By February 2017, Chrome, Firefox and Edge, will mark websites that still rely on certificates that use SHA-1 algorithms as insecure.

insecure SHA-1 certificates

As a result, web transactions and traffic may be disrupted in a variety of ways:

  • Browsers will display warnings to users that the site is insecure, prompting users to look for an alternative site.
  • Browsers will not display the ‘green padlock’ on the address line for HTTPS transactions; consumers rely on this icon as an indication that online transactions are secure and private.
  • Sites may experience performance problems; in some cases, access to websites may be completely blocked.

In addition to the serious impact on user experience, websites that continue to use SHA-1 certificates should expect a significant increase in help desk calls and a reduction in revenue from online transactions. They may also suffer long-term reputation damage.

Walter Goulet, cloud solutions product manager at Venafi, commented: “The results of our analysis clearly show that, while the most popular websites have done a good job of migrating away from SHA-1 certificates, a significant portion of the Internet continues to rely on them. According to Netcraft’s September 2016 Web Server Survey, there are over 173 million active websites on the Internet. Extrapolating from our results, as many as 61 million websites may still be using SHA-1 certificates.”

Digital certificates are used to derive key material needed to encrypt traffic between users and websites. Encryption is required for private and secure communications and transactions. Digital certificates also verify that the website to which the user is connecting is legitimate. All web browsers use certificates to determine what can and can’t be trusted during online transactions. This is particularly critical in transactions that include sensitive data such as eCommerce and online banking.

However, the SHA-1 encryption algorithm used by many website certificates is weak and can be easily manipulated. For example, SHA-1 certificates are vulnerable to collision attacks that allow cyber criminals to forge certificates and perform man-in-the-middle attacks on TLS connections. The SHA-2 algorithm solves these problems, but Venafi Labs’ research shows that many companies have still not made this update, leaving them open to security breaches, compliance problems and outages that can affect security, availability and reliability.

“Our whole online world is predicated on the system of trust that is underpinned by these digital certificates used for authentication and authorization; organizations have an obligation to ensure that only secure certificates are used,” commented Kevin Bocek, chief security strategist at Venafi. “Leaving SHA-1 certificates in place is like putting up a welcome sign for hackers that says, ‘We don’t care about the security of our applications, data and customers.’”

Bocek also points out, “The average organization has over 23,000 keys and certificates, according to Ponemon research. But most organizations don’t have the tools or visibility to find all of their SHA-1 certificates in their IT environment. This means migration to SHA-2 can be complex and chaotic, and, as a result, many businesses have just stuck their heads in the sand and not completed this migration. Unfortunately, in January there will be nowhere for these businesses to hide. My advice is to get a plan in place now, because it will be even more difficult to fix after the impending deprecation deadline when things start to break.”