I know that we've already had some defects in SSL/TLS, like Heartbleed, POODLE, FREAK and others, but all of these were rather localized problems:

  1. Heartbleed was an easily exploitable bug in OpenSSL, a specific implementation;
  2. POODLE was a timing attack on SSL3, which is outdated;
  3. FREAK was an attack on export suites, a deliberate vulnerability caused by legislation.

However, suppose we had a defect with the following properties:

  1. It was originally already present in TLS 1.0, but went undetected all this time and wasn't removed in 1.1 or 1.2.
  2. The defect is in the spec and is not dependent on the implementation;
  3. The defect is a fundamental shortcoming in the spec and a simple band-aid fix won't suffice.
  4. The defect is easily exploitable by any attacker to enable listening in on an encrypted connection in real-time.

Now, I'm not familiar enough with the TLS spec to know if and where such a defect is possible (and I hope such a defect is not present), but even with all the scrutiny that the TLS spec has been subjected to, it is not 100% impossible.

In case a defect with the above properties were to be discovered before the end of the year, what would be the consequence for the internet?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Neil Smithline, Steffen Ullrich, user45139, Deer Hunter, StackzOfZtuff Oct 31 '15 at 7:26

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Probably the same as all the others. There will be a brief panic, probably a lot of news coverage, and meanwhile browser vendors, TLS implementors, or both will find an approach to patch or mitigate the issue (e.g., BEAST) and do their best to get it distributed widely.

  • 1
    You're assuming that the bug can be patched or mitigated. What if that's not an option because it would require completely redesigning TLS? I know that's EXTREMELY unlikely, but you never fully know. This is a hypothetical situation, so it can become quite extreme. – Nzall Oct 30 '15 at 22:59
  • 4
    I'm not at all assuming that. If there is truly some sort of trivially-exploitable TLS protocol bug, browser vendors and TLS implementors will work to find a resolution as quickly as possible. You've structured your question such that the only "real" answer you will seemingly accept is, "everyone runs around with their hair on fire while for two years while we wait to standardize TLS 1.3". If you assume such a response is patently ridiculous, then my answer is pretty much given. A fix or workaround will be found and distributed. Parties that can't update will remain vulnerable. Same as always. – Stephen Touset Oct 30 '15 at 23:26

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