FREAK vulnerability affects Windows, Mac, mobiles

It’s been about two weeks since the FREAK vulnerability was first reported. The flaw itself has existed for at least ten years, and we now know that it affects mobile devices, Mac OS X, and Windows.

From the related US-CERT alert:

FREAK (Factoring Attack on RSA-EXPORT Keys CVE-2015-0204) is a weakness in some implementations of SSL/TLS that may allow an attacker to decrypt secure communications between vulnerable clients and servers.

Google has released an updated version of its Android OS and Chrome browser for OS X to mitigate the vulnerability. Microsoft has released a Security Advisory that includes a workaround for supported Windows systems.

It’s now clear that this is a teaching moment for the Internet. The FREAK flaw exists because of the ridiculous (and short-lived) insistence by the US government that encryption software designated for export be made deliberately weak. The imposed restrictions ended, but the code involved in switching between strong and weak encryption remained. This intentional weakening of encryption is similar to the kind of ‘golden key’ (back door) for which intelligence organizations are currently clamouring. The lesson: Encryption Backdoors Will Always Turn Around And Bite You In The Ass. Bruce Schneier calls this a ‘security rollback‘. The Economist puts it succinctly, “…mathematics applies to just and unjust alike; a flaw that can be exploited by Western governments is vulnerable to anyone who finds it.”

Update 2015Mar19: Researchers determine that exploiting the remaining vulnerable systems is much easier than originally estimated. Thousands of iOS and Android apps are vulnerable.

About jrivett

Jeff Rivett has worked with and written about computers since the early 1980s. His first computer was an Apple II+, built by his father and heavily customized. Jeff's writing appeared in Computist Magazine in the 1980s, and he created and sold a game utility (Ultimaker 2, reviewed in the December 1983 Washington Apple Pi Journal) to international markets during the same period. Proceeds from writing, software sales, and contract programming gigs paid his way through university, earning him a Bachelor of Science (Computer Science) degree at UWO. Jeff went on to work as a programmer, sysadmin, and manager in various industries. There's more on the About page, and on the Jeff Rivett Consulting site.

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