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SSL Security of UK Finance Websites Dismal: Report

Many financial organizations in the UK are failing to properly configure SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate security of their websites, putting user’s information at risk, researchers have discovered.

Many financial organizations in the UK are failing to properly configure SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate security of their websites, putting user’s information at risk, researchers have discovered.

A study conducted by Xiphos Research revealed that many banks in the UK or operating in the UK have insecure SSL instances on their websites, and that the same applies to UK building societies. Despite the fact that the finance industry is expected to implement robust security policies, many banks currently  fail to do so, at least in the UK.

In a recent blog post, Mike Kemp of Xiphos Research explains that the study was focused on the secure customer login components of websites associated with high street banks and building societies, and that both UK owned retail banks and foreign companies operating within the UK were analyzed. The associated URLs were anonymously submitted to the SSLLabs service from Qualys and the study analyzed the results of this analysis.

SSL Configuration IssuesAccording to the research firm, 50 percent of the 22 UK owned retail banks examined were found to have insecure SSL instances, along with 51 percent of the 37 UK building societies that were examined. Additionally, the study found that a whopping 79 percent of the 25 Foreign owned retail banks operating in the UK that were examined had insecure SSL instances.

Even more worrying is the fact that 12 of the total of 84 SSL instances (or 14 percent) that have been submitted to analysis were rated by the SSLLabs service as F, which is the lowest possible score an instance could have. Additionally, Xiphos Research found that some of the analyzed SSL certificates were impacted by various critical vulnerabilities that should have been patched long ago.

The study also revealed that 8 of the authentication URLs were impacted by the POODLE (Padding Oracle on Downgraded Legacy Encryption) vulnerability discovered in 2014. The Man in The Middle (MiTM) vulnerability can be exploited by manipulating and intercepting the communication between the client browser and impacted bank servers, and was discovered to work against TLS as well.

Xiphos also discovered that 4 (or 4.7 percent) of the SSL certificate instances were vulnerable to the CRIME attack, which was first disclosed by Juliano Rizzo and Thai Duong at the Ekoparty security conference in 2012. The attack works against various SSL protocols and can allow an attacker to intercept secret web cookie instances over HTTPS and SPDY connections that use data compression and to perform session hijacking, thus taking full control of data sets that are transmitted and received.

The report also reveals that 9 SSL instances (10.7 percent) were using version 3 of the SSL protocol, which was officially deprecated as of December 2014 because it was found vulnerable to POODLE attacks. An attacker could downgrade the encryption in use and put the security of encrypted communications in transit at risk, which prompted the industry to disable SSL version 3 on all public facing sensitive hosts and to replace it with the more secure TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol.

First introduced in 1999 as the successor of SSL, TLS is more secure, and the PCI Council announced in April last year that new secure applications should use the later iteration of the protocol, namely TLS 1.2, which was released in 2008. However, 26 of the analyzed certificate instances (30.9 percent) did not support it, meaning that sites operating using TLS 1 combined with RC4 could be impacted by BEAST and Lucky 13 attacks.

The researchers discovered that 36 of the SSL certificate instances were using the SHA-1 cryptographic hashing function, which has been deemed as flawed for over ten years. After numerous vulnerabilities were found in SHA-1, tech companies announced plans to reject certificates signed with it in 2017, yet Google and Mozilla recently revealed plans to flip the switch in mid-2016, although Internet giants such as Facebook and Twitter suggest the algorithm should be kept in older browser versions.

According to the study, 35 of the SSL instances (41.6 percent) included support for RC4 (Rivest Cipher 4), although attacks against it have been theoretically possible for many years. When combined with TLS 1, RC4 allows attackers to degrade or negatively impact the security of data in transit, which prompted the industry to move to the more secure TLS 1.2 protocol with the GCM cipher suites and companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla to kill RC4 in their browsers.

Kemp says that the research firm tried to contact the impacted banks to inform them on the security flaws they discovered in November, but that the operation was unsuccessful. However, they contacted the Financial Conduct Authority on Dec. 15, 2015 and reached out to the UK National Crime Agency on Dec. 18, 2015, albeit they are unaware of whether all banks have been informed on the matter.

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