Take the 2-minute tour ×
Information Security Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for Information security professionals. It's 100% free, no registration required.

For internet explorer or whatever, I get it... It's in essence a sneakernet, you get them on the physical media from which you install your system and browser.

But what about for firefox and chrome?

And then, what about when you get a linux distribution? Isn't all "secure" SSL traffic on a linux computer theoretically insecure, if all the root certificates came pre-installed on an image that was downloaded insecurely?

I mean, unless, I suppose, they provide a checksum via SSL that you verify before you install the system, right?

share|improve this question

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

When software needs to use SSL/TLS, it commonly wants to use a list of Certificate Authorities. There may be software that simply always warns for every unknown certificate, but like you said, Firefox and Chrome have a list of CAs.

Where they get this list depends on the software. You can google this, you know.

  • Mozilla maintains an own list of CAs (for Firefox, Thunderbird, etc.)
  • Chrome uses the CA list from the operating system, or at least on Windows I read.
  • Opera maintains an own list of CAs it seems.
  • Safari uses the OS's list (Apple's on OS X and Microsoft's on Windows).

Then about your question regarding how this list is obtained: You are right, if the download was not verified to be secure (in a secure way), then all communications from thereon are inherently insecure. When you are downloading a Linux distribution and I replace your download with one that has an altered CA list, then yes, I could read all your HTTPS communications. It's probably much easier to just install malware though.

Note that a checksum alone is not the ultimate solution: the checksum must be obtained over a secure connection (e.g. https), or else that too can be altered.

It's funny: if you need to obtain the checksum over https, where did your current browser (or OS) get a CA list? Somewhere you always have to trust someone or something (such as the shop you bought Windows from), besides the trust that you put in CAs.

share|improve this answer
1  
It is, indeed, funny... turtles all the way down! –  wwaawaw Nov 18 '12 at 7:30

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.