Category Archives: SSL

Extended Validation Certificates are (Really, Really) Dead

Extended Validation Certificates are (Really, Really) Dead

Almost one year ago now, I declared extended validation certificates dead. The entity name had just been removed from Safari on iOS, it was about to be removed from Safari on Mojave and there were indications that Chrome would remove it from the desktop in the future (they already weren't displaying it on mobile clients). The only proponents of EV seemed to be those selling it or those who didn't understand how reliance on the absence of a positive visual indicator was simply never a good idea in the first place.

The writing might have been on the wall a year ago, but the death warrant is now well and truly inked with both Chrome and Firefox killing it stone cold dead. Here's the Google announcement:

On HTTPS websites using EV certificates, Chrome currently displays an EV badge to the left of the URL bar. Starting in Version 77, Chrome will move this UI to Page Info, which is accessed by clicking the lock icon.

And here's the Firefox announcement:

In desktop Firefox 70, we intend to remove Extended Validation (EV) indicators from the identity block (the left hand side of the URL bar which is used to display security / privacy information).

Chrome 77 is currently scheduled to ship on September 10 and Firefox 70 on October 22. With both browsers auto-updating for most people, we're about 10 weeks out from no more EV and the vast majority of web users no longer seeing something they didn't even know was there to begin with! Oh sure, you can still drill down into the certificate and see the entity name, but who's really going to do that? You and I, perhaps, but we're not exactly in the meat of the browser demographics.

I will admit to some amusement in watching all this play out, partly because the ludicrous claims about EV efficacy really come crashing down when it's no longer visible to the end user. But also partly because of comments along the lines of "Google is pushing the EV changes into the spec". Google wasn't pushing anything into a spec, no more so than Apple was last year and Mozilla is now, they were all simply adapting their own UIs to better service their customers and they've all arrived at the same conclusion: remove the EV entity name. But it's the reasons why they're doing this that I find particularly interesting, for example in the Chrome announcement:

Through our own research as well as a survey of prior academic work, the Chrome Security UX team has determined that the EV UI does not protect users as intended. Users do not appear to make secure choices (such as not entering password or credit card information) when the UI is altered or removed, as would be necessary for EV UI to provide meaningful protection.

That absolutely nails it - users aren't going to change their behaviour when they see a DV padlock rather than an EV entity name. This is precisely what Mozilla called out in their announcement:

The effectiveness of EV has been called into question numerous times over the last few years, there are serious doubts whether users notice the absence of positive security indicators and proof of concepts have been pitting EV against domains for phishing.

In fact, Mozilla went even further and referenced the great work that Ian Carroll did when he registered a colliding entity name and got an EV cert for it:

More recently, it has been shown that EV certificates with colliding entity names can be generated by choosing a different jurisdiction. 18 months have passed since then and no changes that address this problem have been identified.

All Ian had to do was spend $100 registering "Stripe Inc" in a different US state to the payment processor you'd normally associate the name with then another $77 on the EV cert and less than hour later, he had this newsworthy result:

Extended Validation Certificates are (Really, Really) Dead

He did this perfectly legally and in a fashion compliant with the baseline requirements yet shortly thereafter, Comodo CA (now Sectigo) revoked the certificate. They later apologised and blamed the decision on "A Comodo CA employee who is not a member of senior management". Apple knew this was a problem when they killed off the EV entity name last year:

Apple said that this changes was based on research and customer input. “Org name is not tied to users intended destination the same way that the domain name is”

So now I'm curious - how long will take the CAs selling EV to adjust their marketing to align with reality? For example, Sectigo is going to need to kill off most of their EV description:

Extended Validation Certificates are (Really, Really) Dead

Half their "visible trust indicators" go too which leaves them with an identical set of bullet points to DV:

Extended Validation Certificates are (Really, Really) Dead

But hey, you still get to put a logo on the page! 🤦‍♂️

Let's not just single out Sectigo though, DigiCert will also need to significantly revise their marketing paraphernalia:

Extended Validation Certificates are (Really, Really) Dead

I'm assuming the bit about brand refers to the entity name in EV as it doesn't appear against OV or DV on that page. Oh - and just for reference, DigiCert refused to issue Ian a certificate for Stripe due to "risk factors". What risk factors? Well...

It's time for re-sellers to clean up their act too, for example The SSL Store:

Extended Validation Certificates are (Really, Really) Dead

I chose to leave the entire browser window in this screen grab to highlight the irony of "The SSL Store" having an EV cert issued to "Rapid Web Services". Remember one of Apple's complaints - "Org name is not tied to users intended destination" - yeah...

Actually, The SSL Store provides many great opportunities for reflection on the EV craziness that was (it's pretty safe to use the past tense now). Their piece on how EV provides "tremendous value" is clearly now on the nose and is full of great zingers such as how important it is to be able to differentiate from Why a great zinger? Because PayPal themselves decided that didn't matter back in September last year. And since that entire piece was in response to me writing about just how useless EV was even back then, let's pick it apart even further, for example:

The value of an EV certificate is clear. It is the ability to know more than your browser can assert through connecting to a hostname, parsing a certificate file, and verifying an encryption key.

Ouch - that didn't age well!

EV is now really, really dead. The claims that were made about it have been thoroughly debunked and the entire premise on which it was sold is about to disappear. So what does it mean for people who paid good money for EV certs that now won't look any different to DV? I know precisely what I'd do if I was sold something that didn't perform as advertised and became indistinguishable from free alternatives...