CACert has tightened its access rules.

One fact which I have sometimes blogged about, is that I am a member at CACert.org. This is a certificate authority which has been surrounded by some controversy. Its use is for members to be able to secure their servers, by obtaining an SSL certificate, i.e. obtaining an httpS:// URL, without having to pay money to do so.

What happens in the industry, is that each httpS:// URL is secured via encryption – in such a way that only the server and browser can decrypt the data – but that every Public Key used, needs to be signed by a Certificate Authority using their Private Key. There exist Certificate Authorities who charge big money for this service, to Web-masters. CACert offers this for free.

But for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, CACert is already not included in most Web browser root certificates. In order for any signing chain to be possible, eventually the ‘top’ of the signing chain needs to be a root certificate, which is already ‘known to’ and ‘bundled with’ the browser, and which the browser automatically trusts.

A decision which a user can make however, is to add root certificates to the browser manually, and to tell the browser to trust those, at his own risk – OF perhaps having data tapped in to, which he is exchanging with the server he wants this secure connection to.

Long story short, in order for anybody to open the CACert Web page itself, which is the link I included above, the user now needs to have not only the CACert root certificate installed, but additionally needs to have their Class 3 certificate installed. Because I only had their root CA installed on some of my browsers, I recently failed to open the link, to their actual site, and spent some time troubleshooting what was causing this. They have tightened the security, with which their own site can even be accessed, always to revert back to the httpS:// version of the URL, prior to which we need to have these two certificates installed, for their page to open.

As it happens, in order for my own httpS:// URLs to open, I only need to have their root CA installed, but I cannot access their site, unless I have both CAs installed. This might sound as though convenient, but in fact is not so.

If I wanted to invite other people to access my httpS:// URLs, I would also need to invite them, to install the root CA from CACert. But in practice, the only way I can do this ethically, is to direct them to the CACert site, as above. I would never try to redistribute their root CA, myself.

And their site will not open on your browser anymore, unless you have done the research, and installed both these CAs yourself.

So this mechanism is now limited, to giving me private access, to certain parts of my own site.

But I am relieved, that CACert has not itself been hacked – so far. It was a bit hard for me to determine what the difficulty was, but it did not turn out to be any sort of hacking, of CACert.org .

Dirk

(Edit : ) What I can do in a case like this, is to suggest some http:// URL to you, such as

http://www.cacert.org/certs/root.crt

And I could tell you, to use that URL to provide access – to my site and not to CACert. But, you would have no way to trust this URL, coming from me. Doing so would be just as non-secure for you, as it would be, if I simply transferred the cert to you directly. What I can do, is suggest a WiKi page to you, which belongs to CACert.org, like so:

http://wiki.cacert.org/FAQ/BrowserClients

And then you could follow the advice given…

 

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