Apple and Microsoft trust Chinese government to protect your communication

Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla among others, trust CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center) to protect your communications on their platforms by default, regardless of whether or not you are in China. CNNIC has implemented (and tried to mask) internet censorship, produced malware and has very bad security practices. Tech-savvy users in China have been protesting the inclusion of CNNIC as a trusted certificate authority for years. In January 2013, after Github was attacked in China, we publicly called for the the revocation of the trust certificate for CNNIC. In light of the recent spate of man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks in China, and in an effort to protect user privacy not just in China but everywhere, we again call for revocation of CNNIC Certificate Authority.

Are you vulnerable to CNNIC-issued certificates?

You can test this by visiting the CNNIC site: https://www1.cnnic.cn/gywm/CNNICjs/jj/  

If you see a padlock in your browser’s address bar or receive no warning messages, it means that your computer trusts CNNIC as a certificate authority and you might be vulnerable to a MITM attack from CNNIC.

CNNIC-trust.png

Usernames, passwords, emails, photos, contacts and even financial information can be compromised.

Why is CNNIC not trustworthy?

CNNIC is either complicit in the recent MITM attacks or has intentionally allowed these attacks to happen. We have been witness to the Chinese authorities using MITM attacks against Apple’s iCloud, Google, Microsoft’s Outlook and Yahoo in this month alone.

CNNIC is responsible for the “operation, administration and service organization of national network fundamental resources”. We have evidence that the recent attacks originated from the Chinese internet backbone. Attacks against Yahoo and Google have been implemented on the internet backbone for weeks.

CNNIC is led by the Director of the Bureau of Telecommunications Regulation which is a part of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). MIIT famously requires all websites hosted in China, from B2B behemoths to blogs, to obtain a license. MIIT regularly scans all websites in China and shuts down any website without a license.

CNNIC-produced malware, titled “Chinese-Language-Surfing Official Edition”, was ranked among the top five instances of malware in 2005 by the Beijing Network Industry Association because of its forced installation and the inability to entirely remove the malware. Microsoft also labeled it as a threat:

BrowserModifier:Win32/CNNIC ..is often installed.. with or without user consent. [It] contains a kernel driver that protects its files and registry settings from being modified or deleted.

via Microsoft Malware Protection Center

Panda Security also noted that CNNIC exploited vulnerabilities and used other malware to distribute the software. CNNIC does this by prompting users to “open files, view malicious web pages, read emails, etc.”. The malware then captures all information entered or saved by the user, which leads to significant privacy issues.

CNNIC and censorship

Public DNS servers operated by CNNIC implement censorship to block users from accessing Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other websites. If users in China try to access blocked sites, false DNS responses will be returned. However, if users are located outside of China, DNS responses will be valid.

The screenshot below illustrates that when a China-based user looks up www.twitter.com on the DNS server 1.2.4.8 (This DNS server is operated by CNNIC), they will not be able to connect to the site and will receive a false response, namely 37.61.54.128, which is not owned by Twitter. The user is hence blocked from accessing Twitter.

DNS2.png

CNNIC not only implements censorship but also masks its level of involvement. On January 21, 2014, GFW accidentally blocked the entire Internet in China by DNS poisoning top level domains such as .com. We have conclusive evidence that GFW was the cause of the blackout (see our blog post for details). New York Times ran an article entitled “Big Web Crash in China: Experts Suspect Great Firewall” on its front page. CNNIC acknowledged the internet blackout but did not identify the cause of the blackout. CNNIC’s responsibilities in China include Chinese domain name security. As an agency directly responsible for the security of DNS, CNNIC’s failure to investigate such a large-scale and easily identifiable attack can be construed as a coverup for GFW.  

One need not look any further than their homepage to see that CNNIC has very bad security practices. The homepage has mixed insecure content. All content indexed on the CNNIC website is HTTP by default (unencrypted), including forms that require user submissions.

Many Chinese users protested when CNNIC was first trusted by Mozilla’s Firefox in 2009. You can read the heated debate on the Mozilla forum. Now that MITM attacks are becoming the new normal on the Chinese Internet, we hope that Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple can revoke trust for CNNIC to protect not just Chinese user data but user data worldwide.

Who trusts CNNIC and what are the consequences of trusting them?

Certificates issued by CNNIC are, by default, trusted by open source products including Mozilla’s Firefox and the Linux distribution Ubuntu, Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s iOS and OSX. This applies to almost every version of Firefox, Ubuntu and Windows and most models of Apple’s iPhone, even if you have never been to China or you bought your software and hardware outside of China.

CNNIC-win.png

CNNIC can issue certificates to intercept encrypted connections without your knowledge.  

As evidenced by this screenshot, CNNIC can “ensure the identify of a remote computer”. So if GFW or state-sponsored hackers use CNNIC for an MITM attack, your computer or iPhone will trust a snooped connection hijacked by hackers. Consequently, all your communications can be recorded, analyzed and manipulated by GFW or hackers. Usernames, passwords, text messages, emails, photos, contacts and even financial information can be acquired by the Chinese authorities. Apple has just released Apple Pay - a compromised connection will not only cost you your privacy, it may cost your money as well. iPhones are especially vulnerable to attack because there is no way for iPhone users to view details of a trusted certificate used in the connection. An attack from CNNIC is impossible to identify on iOS. You do not need be in China to be vulnerable to these attacks.

To be fair, man-in-the-middle attacks using CNNIC likely won’t happen on a large scale. Once discovered, CNNIC’s trust certificate would likely be revoked by Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple.

However, highly targeted attacks can go unnoticed. In fact, the large scale attack against Microsoft's Outlook last week “almost went unnoticed”. It took two days for mainstream media to report on the recent iCloud hack.

Why do Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple take such huge risks with their user data, especially considering that Outlook and iCloud have been recently attacked? By trusting CNNIC, these companies continue to put user data in danger not just in China, but everywhere.

What should you do?

First, you can ask Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple to revoke the CNNIC certificate. Tell them that you do not trust CNNIC and ask them to remove it from the system. If you are involved in an open source community such as Mozilla or Linux, ask the community to distrust the certificate and point them to this story. Please also share this article widely and alert users and software vendors to this privacy risk.

Revocation of the CNNIC certificate will take time and the Chinese government will likely exert pressure on companies to keep trusting CNNIC. You can take action yourself and distrust CNNIC by using a free and open source tool to revoke dubious certificate authority in China. This tool was made by Chinese to distrust CNNIC and various certificates used in the MITM attacks against iCloud, Outlook, Yahoo and Google. We recommended that you use the extended version on the Github. 

Once you used the tool, you should see a red warning bar when accessing https://www1.cnnic.cn/gywm/CNNICjs/jj/. This means that your device no longer trusts CNNIC and hence the Chinese authorities can no longer tamper with your connection.

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Thu, Nov 30, 2017

About those 674 apps that Apple censored in China

Apple opened the door on its censorship practices in China - but just a crack.

Tue, May 23, 2017

Is China establishing cyber sovereignty in the United States?

Last week Twitter came under attack from a DDoS attack orchestrated by the Chinese authorities. While such attacks are not uncommon for websites like Twitter, this one proved unusual. While the Chinese authorities use the Great Firewall to block harmful content from reaching its citizens, it now uses DDoS attacks to take down content that appears on websites beyond its borders. For the Chinese authorities, it is not simply good enough to “protect” the interests of Chinese citizens at home - in their view of cyber sovereignty, any content that might harm China’s interests must be removed, regardless of where the website is located.

And so last week the Chinese authorities determined that Twitter was the target. In particular, the authorities targeted the Twitter account for Guo Wengui (https://twitter.com/KwokMiles), the rebel billionaire who is slowly leaking information about corrupt Chinese government officials via his Twitter account and through his YouTube videos. Guo appeared to ramp up his whistle-blowing efforts last week and the Chinese authorities, in turn, ramped up theirs.

via https://twitter.com/KwokMiles/status/863689935798374401

Mon, Dec 12, 2016

China is the obstacle to Google’s plan to end internet censorship

It’s been three years since Eric Schmidt proclaimed that Google would chart a course to ending online censorship within ten years. Now is a great time to check on Google’s progress, reassess the landscape, benchmark Google’s efforts against others who share the same goal, postulate on the China strategy and offer suggestions on how they might effectively move forward.

flowers on google china plaque

Flowers left outside Google China’s headquarters after its announcement it might leave the country in 2010. Photo: Wikicommons.

What has Google accomplished since November 2013?

The first thing they have accomplished is an entire rebranding of both Google (now Alphabet) and Google Ideas (now Jigsaw). Throughout this blog post, reference is made to both new and old company names.

Google has started to develop two main tools which they believe can help in the fight against censorship. Jigsaw’s DDoS protection service, Project Shield, is effectively preventing censorship-inspired DDoS attacks and recently helped to repel an attack on Brian Krebs’ blog. The service is similar to other anti-DDoS services developed by internet freedom champions and for-profit services like Cloudflare.

Thu, Nov 24, 2016

Facebook: Please, not like this

Facebook is considering launching a censorship tool that would enable the world’s biggest social network to “enter” the China market. Sadly, nobody will be surprised by anything that Mark Zuckerberg decides to do in order to enter the China market. With such low expectations, Facebook is poised to usurp Apple as China’s favorite foreign intelligence gathering partner. If the company launches in China using this strategy they will also successfully erase any bargaining power that other media organizations may hold with the Chinese authorities.

Tue, Jul 05, 2016

GreatFire.org 现在开始测试VPN在中国的速度和稳定性

在中国有一个普遍观念,如果你有一个可以使用的VPN,那么你应该保持沉默。就信息自由而言,这种观念的问题在于获取知识竟成了一种秘密。今天,我们推出一个项目,希望能够摧毁这种模型。

我们最新的网站,翻墙中心,目的在于实时提供那些能够在中国使用的翻墙方案的信息和数据。在2011年以来我们就已经开始收集在中国被屏蔽的网站,现在我们也将增加那些可用的VPN和其他翻墙工具。

我们发布翻墙中心主要有四个目的。

我们的首要目标是助长使用翻墙工具的国人的数量。通过分享我们这些工具的信息和数据,我们希望对更广泛的受众展示那些工具时可以使用的。

我们的第二个目标是通过带来工具性能的透明化来提升中国用户的翻墙体验。我们将会测试工具的速度(流行网站的加载速度)和稳定性(流行网站加载成功的程度)。

我们开发速度测试的目的是要真实反映用户的体验。当用户在网站测速时,浏览器在后台会从10个世界上最流行的网站上下载一些资源文件。根据Alexa排名,这些网站分别是Google, Facebook, YouTube, Baidu, Amazon, Yahoo, Wikipedia, QQ, Twitter and Microsoft Live。速度的结果是简单的计算下载文件文件的大小和下载所需的时间。我们同样也会验证下载的文件是否完整。如果文件的内容是错误的或者在40秒内无法完成下载,我们会标记为失败。这个数据被我们用来生成另一个重要指标-稳定性。

其他的速度测试工具仅仅是通过发送数据到它们自己的服务器来测量上传和下载的速度。这种数据无法反应用户的体验,因为正常的浏览器通常会频繁的发送一系列的请求(而不是上传或下载一个大文件)到许多的服务器,而不止是一个。

我们的第二个指标 - 稳定性 - 是其他的服务通常不会测试的。一个健康的互联网连接应该达到100%的稳定性,除非有人在测试中把网线拔了。但是在中国使用翻墙工具却不是这样。任何时候连接都有可能变得不稳定或十分缓慢。根据请求的大小,最终的地点和代理的方式,一些请求有可能会失败。比较服务的稳定性要比比较速度更加重要。

你可以测试任意的翻墙工具,列表之外的也可以。中国的VPN用户也可以测试他们的工具,测试结果也会添加到数据库中。这些数据都将会对所有人开放。实时的在中国测试是非常重要的,因为VPN随时都可能被封锁或解封。我们欢迎任何的关于测试过程的反馈。有技术能力的用户也可以通过审查我们的javascript代码来获悉我们的测试是如何工作的。

我们郑重的邀请翻墙工具的开发者们向我们提供测试过程的反馈。我们的第三个目标是帮助这些开发人员改进他们的产品,让更多的选择适用于中国的顾客。此外,越多的工具可以工作,就意味着中国当局对翻墙的打击就会越难。

中国的用户都知道,在过去的18个月中当局加紧了对翻墙工具的攻击。而翻墙中心将会吹响反击的号角。反其道而行之,让这不再成为秘密。我们要鼓励人们分享翻墙工具可以工作的信息。

我们的第四个目标就是要为GreatFire.org创造收益。目前GreatFire仍然依靠世界各地的热心人士和组织的捐款。我们希望减少对这些机构的依赖,并探寻GreatFire.org自给自足的道路。用户只需到翻墙中心就能购买任意一款我们目前在测试的付费工具。GreatFire将作为这些工具在中国的经销商,因此VPN供应商会给予我们每个零售的一部分。用户也不必在中国购买这些翻墙服务。

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Comments

Problem with this 'call for action' is that you can't limit yourself to just CNNIC. There are many other governments and organisations trusted by your browser which are highly suspect.

The only correct action here is to educate yourself on how to verify these certificates, both in your browser as well as your mail client, and use certificate pinning where possible.

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