This Day On The Street
Continue to site right-arrow
ADVERTISEMENT
This account is pending registration confirmation. Please click on the link within the confirmation email previously sent you to complete registration.
Need a new registration confirmation email? Click here
TheStreet Open House

The Digital Skeptic: Amateurs Are Taking Over, and Risking, Web Security

SAN FRANCISCO( TheStreet) -- Ben Wilson tries hard not to show it. But he's worried. Really worried.

"If somebody gets a hold of one these things, it's not just one site that gets taken out," said Wilson, the senior vice president and general counsel for DigiCert, a Lindon, Utah, Internet security firm, over a hip hotel burger lunch.

"It's, you know, hundreds. Thousands of sites. Heck, maybe more," Wilson said.

The "thing" Wilson is sweating is called a certificate authority -- or CA in geek speak. That's the hidden, but critical, Web security organ that enables parts of secure Web transactions when say, shopping at Amazon (AMZN) or giving your tax ID to IRS.gov or buying and selling stock online at E*Trade (ETFC).

"The volume CAs handle can be a major fraction of total Web traffic," said David Rockvam, senior vice president for certificate services at Entrust, a Dallas security firm. Entrust and DigiCert are among a half-dozen certificate authorities that control about 90% of the certificate authority market.

"Keeping them secure is critical," Rockvam said.

Wilson and Rockvam had invited me away from the crazy-busy RSA Conference, the computer security nerd Lollapalooza hosted by the security division of drive-maker EMC (EMC). Here in the relative quiet, the two gave me the lowdown on the new dangers for CAs, away from the hordes gawking at big, sexy security companies such as VeriSign (VRSN), ZixCorp, Symantec (SYMC), StrikeForce Technologies (SFOR) and dozens of well-funded start-ups.

What makes Wilson and Rockvam so jittery is how -- not unlike publishing, movies and financial services -- the barriers to entry to becoming a CA, albeit a small one, have dropped to the point where Wilson estimates there are 60 to several hundred active certificate authorities.

"And if you are your own CA, you can do whatever you want," Rockvam explained. "Until you are discovered."

That makes CAs awfully attractive targets.

Just last month, a Turkish CA called TurkTrust began issuing insecure digital security certificates to the point where major traffic hubs Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and Mozilla refused to honor its Web transactions. The company publicly said its bogus certificates were a simple mistake. But it is far from the only example of a crumbling CA security infrastructure.

1 of 2

Check Out Our Best Services for Investors

Action Alerts PLUS

Portfolio Manager Jim Cramer and Director of Research Jack Mohr reveal their investment tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.

Product Features:
  • $2.5+ million portfolio
  • Large-cap and dividend focus
  • Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
Quant Ratings

Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.

Product Features:
  • Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
  • Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
  • A custom stock screener
Stocks Under $10

David Peltier uncovers low dollar stocks with serious upside potential that are flying under Wall Street's radar.

Product Features:
  • Model portfolio
  • Stocks trading below $10
  • Intraday trade alerts
14-Days Free
Try it NOW
Only $9.95
Try it NOW
14-Days Free
Try it NOW

Check Out Our Best Services for Investors

Dividend Stock Advisor

David Peltier identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.

Product Features:
  • Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
  • Updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
Trifecta Stocks

Every recommendation goes through 3 layers of intense scrutiny—quantitative, fundamental and technical analysis—to maximize profit potential and minimize risk.

Product Features:
  • Model Portfolio
  • Intra Day Trade alerts
  • Access to Quant Ratings
Options Profits

Our options trading pros provide over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.

Product Features:
  • Actionable options commentary and news
  • Real-time trading community
Try it NOW
Try it NOW
Try it NOW
To begin commenting right away, you can log in below using your Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, OpenID or Yahoo login credentials. Alternatively, you can post a comment as a "guest" just by entering an email address. Your use of the commenting tool is subject to multiple terms of service/use and privacy policies - see here for more details.
Submit an article to us!
SYM TRADE IT LAST %CHG
AAPL $126.37 2.53%
FB $83.20 -0.13%
GOOG $552.03 0.67%
TSLA $190.57 3.01%
YHOO $44.95 -0.33%

Markets

DOW 17,976.31 +263.65 1.49%
S&P 500 2,086.24 +25.22 1.22%
NASDAQ 4,947.4410 +56.2220 1.15%

Partners Compare Online Brokers

Free Reports

Free Newsletters from TheStreet

My Subscriptions:

After the Bell

Before the Bell

Booyah! Newsletter

Midday Bell

TheStreet Top 10 Stories

Winners & Losers

Register for Newsletters
Top Rated Stocks Top Rated Funds Top Rated ETFs