We intend to update Mozilla’s Root Store Policy to reduce the maximum lifetime of TLS certificates from 825 days to 398 days, with the aim of protecting our user’s HTTPS connections. Many reasons for reducing the lifetime of certificates have been provided and summarized in the CA/Browser Forum’s Ballot SC22. Here are Mozilla’s top three reasons for supporting this change.
Certificates with lifetimes longer than 398 days delay responding to major incidents and upgrading to more secure technology. Certificate revocation is highly disruptive and difficult to plan for. Certificate expiration and renewal is the least disruptive way to replace an obsolete certificate, because it happens at a pre-scheduled time, whereas revocation suddenly causes a site to stop working. Certificates with lifetimes of no more than 398 days help mitigate the threat across the entire ecosystem when a major incident requires certificate or key replacements. Additionally, phasing out certificates with MD5-based signatures took five years, because TLS certificates were valid for up to five years. Phasing out certificates with SHA-1-based signatures took three years, because the maximum lifetime of TLS certificates was three years. Weakness in hash algorithms can lead to situations in which attackers can forge certificates, so users were at risk for years after collision attacks against these algorithms were proven feasible.
2. Limit exposure to compromise
Keys valid for longer than one year have greater exposure to compromise, and a compromised key could enable an attacker to intercept secure communications and/or impersonate a website until the TLS certificate expires. A good security practice is to change key pairs frequently, which should happen when you obtain a new certificate. Thus, one-year certificates will lead to more frequent generation of new keys.
3. TLS Certificates Outliving Domain Ownership
TLS certificates provide authentication, meaning that you can be sure that you are sending information to the correct server and not to an imposter trying to steal your information. If the owner of the domain changes or the cloud service provider changes, the holder of the TLS certificate’s private key (e.g. the previous owner of the domain or the previous cloud service provider) can impersonate the website until that TLS certificate expires. The Insecure Design Demo site describes two problems with TLS certificates outliving their domain ownership:
- “If a company acquires a previously owned domain, the previous owner could still have a valid certificate, which could allow them to MitM the SSL connection with their prior certificate.”
- “If a certificate has a subject alt-name for a domain no longer owned by the certificate user, it is possible to revoke the certificate that has both the vulnerable alt-name and other domains. You can DoS the service if the shared certificate is still in use!”
The change to reduce the maximum validity period of TLS certificates to 398 days is being discussed in the CA/Browser Forum’s Ballot SC31 and can have two possible outcomes:
a) If that ballot passes, then the requirement will automatically apply to Mozilla’s Root Store Policy by reference.
In preparation for updating our root store policy, we surveyed all of the certificate authorities (CAs) in our program and found that they all intend to limit TLS certificate validity periods to 398 days or less by September 1, 2020.
We believe that the best approach to safeguarding secure browsing is to work with CAs as partners, to foster open and frank communication, and to be diligent in looking for ways to keep our users safe.