New security standard pushes for better support for digital certificates

With hackers targeting certificate authorities, proposal would make it much harder to spoof or obtain fraudulent certificates

There is no silver bullet when it comes to encryption. Even the most complex, invulnerable encryption today could be child's play in the future. The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) is publishing new encryption standards for public review to try and keep up with the times and stay a step ahead of the bad guys.

The NIST is a government agency, and its guidelines only really impact other government agencies. However, many security experts and organizations look to the NIST standards as a baseline.

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All of security is more or less a game of cat and mouse. Security measures are put in place, and they work for a while until attackers find the weak spots or figure out how to compromise or circumvent them. Then, security experts have to devise new methods, and the game starts over. Website encryption, and the certificates we use to prove a site is legitimate, are subject to this same cause and effect.

Secure websites rely on digital certificates issued by trusted Certificate Authorities (CA) to verify their authenticity. Basically, a trusted third party acts as a Certificate Authority (CA). The CA validates that an individual or organization is authentic, and issues a certificate. When you connect to a website, your browser verifies that the site has a valid certificate issued from a trusted CA, and in most cases will warn you if the certificate is expired or has other issues.

The system of digital certificates is what allows average, nontechie users to surf the Web and participate in online banking and e-commerce with some amount of confidence that they won't be hacked. Digital certificates have done the job for years, but attackers have figured out that the certificates are the key to spoofing sites and luring users into sharing sensitive information unwittingly.

Over the past year or so, digital certificates have been under attack, and the compromise of traditional digital certificates has resulted in various data and security breaches. It's time to change the system to adapt to the times.

One of the core elements of the proposed NIST encryption standard is that it will include support for Extended Validation (EV) certificates. Organizations must provide more extensive verification of identity to acquire EV certificates, making it significantly harder to spoof, or obtain fraudulent certificates.

People need some assurance that the websites they're connecting to are legitimate, and the EV certificates provide more peace of mind. The NIST wants to ensure that websites adopt newer encryption technologies that allow for EV certificates. Of course, Web security and encryption standards will continue to evolve over time, but it's always a good idea to have your own cross-device security in place for additional protection.

Eventually, attackers will figure out how to game the EV certificate system as well, and it will be time for a new standard. But, for now it will be a huge step forward for Web security in general for government and mainstream sites to ensure they're compatible with the EV certificates standard.

This story, "New security standard pushes for better support for digital certificates" was originally published by PCWorld.

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