You Won’t Be Needing These Any More: On Removing Unused Certificates from Trust Stores

Abstract

SSL and HTTPS is currently a hotly debated topic – particularly the weakest link property of the CA based system has been heavily criticized. This has become even more relevant in the light of recent spying revelations. While there are several proposals how the CA system could be improved or replaced, none of these solutions is receiving widespread adoption, and even in a best case scenario it would take years to replace the current system. In this paper we examine a root problem of the weakest-link property and propose a simple stop-gap measure which can improve the security of HTTPS immediately. Currently, over 400 trusted entities are contained in each of the common trust stores of various platforms and operating systems. To find out which of these trusted root certificates are actually needed for the HTTPS ecosystem, we analyzed the trust stores of Windows, Linux, MacOS, Firefox, iOS and Android, discuss the interesting differences and conduct an extensive analysis against a database of roughly 47 million certificates collected from HTTPS servers. We found that of the 426 trusted root certificates, only 66 % were used to sign HTTPS certificates. We discuss the benefits and risks involved in removing the other 34 % of trusted roots. On the whole, we argue that this removal is an important first step to improve HTTPS security.

Publication
Financial Cryptography and Data Security