NewsSeptember 3, 2015 @ 12:47 PM

Why the Browser Industry Is Collectively Saying Goodbye to RC4 Next Year

Twenty-eight years is an incredible run for any kind of technology, but in the case of RC4, increased security concerns have convinced some of the industry’s biggest companies that it’s time to retire the stream cipher in their browsers.

By next year, computer users can expect RC4 to disappear from Firefox, Chrome and Edge (the successor to Internet Explorer), VentureBeat reported. Although it’s been widely adopted since 1987, companies such as Google, Microsoft and Mozilla all announced their plans to focus on more advanced forms of data encryption.

The vendors’ decision comes not long after the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) decided to prohibit the use of RC4 in the TLS protocol, Softpedia pointed out. At its peak, however, the technology was also used to support encryption across a wide range of other protocols, including WEP, BitTorrent, Skype and SSH, among others.

Although many users may not even be aware of how RC4 works in their browsers, recent studies have demonstrated how easily attackers could exploit the technology to steal data. Back in March, for example, Dark Reading posted details about a presentation at Black Hat Asia where researchers demonstrated something they called a “Bar Mitzvah attack,” alluding to some flaws in the technology that dated back some 13 years. The technique could be used to spy on SSL browsing sessions, an organization or a particular application, and it could even be exploited to conduct e-commerce transactions.

More recently, The Register showed that it took researchers little more than three days to decrypt cookies using the streaming cipher, and they could execute potential attacks in even less time. Making matters worse, an estimated 30 percent of traffic running across TLS was running on the crypto algorithm until recently. No wonder they dubbed their exploit RC4NOMORE.

Though many of the vendors’ announcements indicate RC4 will fade away by next February, there may be some implications for companies and their IT security teams trying to ensure visitors to their websites don’t get a bad experience. SC Magazine suggested that any portals relying on the streaming cipher to perform certain functions should think about moving as quickly as possible to TLS 1.2.

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Shane Schick

Writer & Editor

Shane Schick is a writer, editor and speaker who focuses on how information technology creates business value. He lives in Toronto.