Rethinking SSL development in an appified world


The Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is widely used to secure data transfers on the Internet. Previous studies have shown that the state of non-browser SSL code is catastrophic across a large variety of desktop applications and libraries as well as a large selection of Android apps, leaving users vulnerable to Man-in-the-Middle attacks (MITMAs). To determine possible causes of SSL problems on all major appified platforms, we extended the analysis to the walled-garden ecosystem of iOS, analyzed software developer forums and conducted interviews with developers of vulnerable apps. Our results show that the root causes are not simply careless developers, but also limitations and issues of the current SSL development paradigm. Based on our findings, we derive a proposal to rethink the handling of SSL in the appified world and present a set of countermeasures to improve the handling of SSL using Android as a blueprint for other platforms. Our countermeasures prevent developers from willfully or accidentally breaking SSL certificate validation, offer support for extended features such as SSL Pinning and different SSL validation infrastructures, and protect users. We evaluated our solution against 13,500 popular Android apps and conducted developer interviews to judge the acceptance of our approach and found that our solution works well for all investigated apps and developers.

Proceedings of the 2013 ACM SIGSAC conference on Computer & communications security