Re: [websec] Comments on draft-ietf-websec-key-pinning

"Ryan Sleevi" <> Fri, 20 February 2015 03:42 UTC

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Date: Thu, 19 Feb 2015 19:42:17 -0800
From: "Ryan Sleevi" <>
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Subject: Re: [websec] Comments on draft-ietf-websec-key-pinning
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On Thu, February 19, 2015 11:38 am, Jeffrey Walton wrote:
>  I don't believe this proposal - in its current form - will prove
>  effective in the canonical cases: (1) CA failure like Diginotar; and
>  (2) MitM attacks like Superfish. Are there other obvious cases I
>  missed that this control will be effective?
>  Jeff

You're factually wrong in cases like (1), and woefully misguided in cases
like (2) if you believe _any_ software, on a general purpose operating
system with 1-layer security principals (such as Windows and OS X), can
defend against a program with same-or-higher privileges.

That's like complaining a program with root access can interfere with your
usermode application. Well, yes, that's exactly correct, that's how it's
supposed to work.

If you can conceive a model where a super-user process would not be able
to circumvent, then congrats, you've solved one of the most vexatious
problems in computer security, and I know a dozen of anti-virus and
anti-malware companies that will let you name your price if only you share
your solution with them.

Consider the following ways that an application like Superfish could have
dealt with this (courtesy of a colleague far brighter than I)
- PTRACE_POKETEXT a code modification at runtime
- LD_PRELOAD a shim that intercepts strcmp and returns false for
- Patch GTK+ (or equiv) so that the lock icon always appears on the omnibox
- Rebuild a version of the browser with the code to disable such pinning
commented out.

There is no sane world in which anything in the HPKP spec can or should
deal with this. It's doubly true and hopefully self-evident that "raising
the bar" is not at all an acceptable, or even reasonable, justification.
Malicious actors have every reason to escalate to more nefarious means
(whether for profit or interception), while legitimate actors get shut out
or, equally, burrow further into internals and cause worse experiences for

I understand that you disagree. But you're also wrong if you think HPKP
can or should have dealt with this.

Best regards,