Certificate Transparency Will Be Mandatory in Chrome

First organized in 2005, The CA/Browser Forum is a voluntary group of certification authorities (CAs), vendors of internet browser software and suppliers of other applications that use X.509 v.3 digital certificates for SSL/TLS and code signing. In other words, it’s an industry group focused on certificates.

The Forum was a logical place for Ryan Sleevi of Google to announce that as of October 2017, the Chrome browser would implement Certificate Transparency (CT) as a mandatory feature.

What Is Certificate Transparency?

CT is an open-source framework designed by Google. It is used for monitoring and auditing the domain certificates sites use to establish authenticity with browsers. First proposed in 2013, Certificate Transparency is now an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) open standard, Threatpost reported.

Google thinks the use of CT will aid the trusted online community. “The use of Certificate Transparency has profoundly altered how browsers, site owners and relying parties are able to detect and respond to misissuance and, importantly, gives new tools to mitigate the damage caused when a CA no longer complies with community expectations and browser programs,” Sleevi said on the forum.

Push Toward Mass Adoption

At its heart, CT is a way to reign in CAs that go off the tracks. This happens frequently: Within the past year, Symantec publicly issued certificates that were supposedly for internal use only and a major Chinese CA was also caught issuing untrustworthy certificates to unknown sites. Malware actors could use these certificates in inappropriate and untrustworthy ways.

Google knows it can’t push the entire population toward standardization and mass adoption of CT all by itself, but it can impose the technology on Chrome users. Since Chrome has an overall market share near 60 percent, just doing that will have a great effect.

Google invited security researchers to come forward with any issues related to CT in the next three months to allow time for solutions to be implemented.

Resistance to CT

There may be deeper problems regarding CT. Bruce Morton, director of certificate services with EnTrust, told Threatpost that some have expressed hesitation about registering all external and internal domain names in one publicly accessible repository. He argued that many companies would rather keep this information private.

It remains to be seen if Google can get the industry to rally around CT as a standard way of doing business.

Larry Loeb

Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other...