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DROWN attack: TLS under fire again

News roundup: DROWN attack affects millions of servers with an SSLv2 vulnerability; the Home Depot breach lawsuit settlement is pending; and Chinese smartphone-maker ZTE is sanctioned.

Another major vulnerability affecting Transport Layer Security has been discovered, leaving enterprises scrambling to address exposed network traffic.

A team of security researchers last week issued a report on DROWN, a new and troubling flaw in the long-reviled SSLv2 protocol. The DROWN attack, which stands for Decrypting RSA with Obsolete and Weakened eNcryption, can "decrypt passively collected TLS sessions from up-to-date clients," according to the report.

Although modern browsers no longer support SSLv2, the researchers found that as many as 6 million HTTPS servers, or 17% of those scanned, still supported it. Using a technique known as a Bleichenbacher RSA padding oracle, the researchers demonstrated the ability to "decrypt a TLS 1.2 handshake, using 2048-bit RSA in under 8 hours using Amazon [Elastic Compute Cloud], at a cost of $440." However, when paired with a newly discovered vulnerability in versions of OpenSSL from 1998 to early 2015, the researchers reported they were able to "decrypt a TLS ciphertext in one minute on a single CPU -- fast enough to enable man-in-the-middle attacks against modern browsers."

In total, the research report stated that 33% of all HTTPS servers are vulnerable to the DROWN attack, because even those servers that don't directly offer SSLv2 share their RSA keys with other entities that do offer it, which would expose those keys.

The researchers stated they were "able to execute the DROWN attack against OpenSSL versions that are vulnerable to CVE-2016-0703 in under a minute using a single PC." The only mitigation, they said, is to disable the use of SSLv2 entirely. "To protect against DROWN, server operators need to ensure that their private keys are not used anywhere with server software that allows SSLv2 connections," the report stated. "This includes Web servers, SMTP servers, IMAP and POP servers, and any other software that supports SSL/TLS." DROWN has been assigned CVE-2016-0800, and in the latest update to OpenSSL, the SSLv2 protocol is being disabled by default, and SSLv2 EXPORT ciphers are being removed to protect against a DROWN attack.

Home Depot data breach settlement

In other news, Home Depot has agreed to compensate U.S. consumers who were harmed by the company's 2014 breach, paying at least $19.5 million, Reuters reported this week.

Under the terms of the settlement, Home Depot will set up a $13 million fund to reimburse shoppers for out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of the breach, and it has agreed to set aside at least $6.5 million to pay for 18 months of cardholder identity protection services for affected consumers. Under the terms agreed upon, which still must be approved by the federal court in Atlanta, Home Depot did not admit liability or wrongdoing, though it did agree to improve its data security over the next two years and hire a CISO. The settlement covers about 40 million U.S. consumers whose payment card information was stolen and over 50 million U.S. consumers whose email addresses were stolen, with some overlap between those two groups. If the proposed settlement is approved by the court, it would be the latest in a string of data breach settlements struck by major enterprises.

Chinese tech firm hit with sanctions

Charging that ZTE Corp. "re-exported controlled items to sanctioned countries contrary to United States law," the U.S. Commerce Department has imposed sanctions on the Chinese smartphone manufacturer for shipping controlled products to Iran, violating U.S. export control laws.

ZTE must comply with "additional licensing requirements on, and limits the availability of most license exceptions for, exports, re-exports and transfers" of any American-made technology. The move was met with approval from the top Democrat member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who suggested sanctioning ZTE could send a message to China on the need to curb the country's cyberespionage programs, according to a report from The Hill. "ZTE is fully committed to compliance with the laws and regulations in the jurisdictions in which it operates," the firm, based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, said in a press statement. "ZTE has been cooperating, will continue to cooperate and communicate with all U.S. agencies, as required. The company is working expeditiously toward resolution of this issue."

ZTE can appeal the Commerce Department's decision.

Next Steps

Read more about POODLE, another SSL vulnerability.

Find out more about removing the glibc remote access vulnerability.

Learn about the Let's Encrypt open certificate authority.

Dig Deeper on Data security breaches