The Internet has Fundamentally Changed – Here’s One Partial Solution

This post is based on the premise that 1) we have a serious security problem on the Internet and 2) money is the only (unnecessary) barrier to solving a large portion of it.

The Problem

The Internet has fundamentally changed. It is so virus and malware infected that a normal human being can’t keep their own PC, Mac or Linux computer from being infected. In other words, the Internet is broken. And our devices don’t work if they aren’t connected to the Internet.

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 4.43.01 AMIt’s just not right. Why should you have to become a security expert? And it DOES NOT NEED TO BE THIS WAY. There is no need for this. The powers that be over the Internet are CHOOSING this and you are the victim.

The (Partial) Solution

We can’t fix it all, but what if we could stop the bleeding by even 50%? Or maybe 30%. Or even 10%. It’s a start. These are our neighbors, our family, our friends and they are being victimized by identity theft because, well, because they are human. Well, reduce the crime? WE CAN! We just have to encrypt everything. By doing so, a large portion of the problem goes away.

Will there still be break ins? Of course. Frequency however will be radically less and you are far less likely to be a victim.

Why? Because the weapons of cyber-warfare are now out in the open to be purchased for as little as $500 on the forums. People are desensitized to it all and now just accept it.

As a company that hosts web sites, here is what I know to be true.

  1. Clients will use weak passwords and we can’t audit that because WE encrypt the passwords in the database. So if a client uses “changeme” or “123456” of “washington” as their password we can’t see it, but when you login from the local hotel the wifi isn’t encrypted and bad guys can. We can’t detect or fix this because its encrypted on our side. But if you aren’t using SSL then it’s NOT encrypted when you send it over.
  2. Example top 100 passwords used on Adobe after they were hacked.
  3. Clients and end users are faced with hundreds of passwords so they use the same passwords over and over. If someone gets one of your passwords, they effectively get everything.
  4. With the proliferation of Open Source, as Tendenci is, developers will deploy a site for you, give it to you, and leave it to you to maintain. So are you running your security updates? Because that is your responsibility now.

Why don’t people encrypt their web sites? Because there is a $50 to $500 a year fee. Plus a hidden cost of updating it every year and paying your hosting provider to install your SSL certificate so the real cost is more like $250 to $1,000 a year.

So why?

Generating a certificate takes one (1) line of code. ONE LINE! Hosting servers to verify the certificates does come at a cost, but so does DNS and it isn’t anywhere near as expensive. Generating a key is technically FREE. Here – go do it for yourself.

openssl genrsa -des3 -out server.key 1024

The certificate you just generated is called a self-signed certificate. So if you visit the site from IE you get a scary message that it can’t be verified. BUT if you visit a site with no encryption, oh, then IE is completely cool with that. Onward thus. Proceed into into unencrypted unsafe territory with abandon. Do you see the problem here?

So what’s the motive? Why? Because of the cash machine. The certificate authorities want to charge you for their certificate chain saying that you are legit. But GoDaddy charges $270 for a wildcard SSL? Or Network Solutions can offer the same wildcard ssl for $494 with a 5 year contract.

So I guess if you aren’t rich your voice isn’t as legit as someone else’s voice? The bottom line is the certificate authorities want your money. Now, DNS service providers usually charge 10 to 15 a year to resolve your domain name. Tell me again why an SSL certificate is $50 to $500 or it gives a browser warning that terrifies people? It’s not a new debate, it’s a license to print money that deters security on the Internet globally.

It’s just greed. But the cost is astronomical to the citizens of the world. It’s like a city not repairing roads and ignoring the cost the citizens bear fixing their cars which is so much more than the cost of filling potholes and installing stop signs. It’s pennies for lives. Hence, cities fix the roads (for the most part.)

What if we flipped it? Why don’t you have to pay $100 a year to NOT have your site encrypted? What if security was the default? What if encrypted email was 10$ a month but unencrypted email was 500$ a month? Would that get people attention?

We can self sign web sites and email ourselves. We don’t need no stinkin’ web authority to do it. It’s one line of code.

Oh wait. Stop. Idealistic guy trying to save the world with open source disclaimer. Why not? Because of the “man”.

The browser will give you a terrifying warning about that certificate not being “approved” and IE will flat out block it if you don’t pay up. No, you must pay “the man” which is in this case the Certificate Signing Authorities who are powerful enough to have their codes shipped with all of the web browsers. What would their cost be to include a public domain certificate authority, much like wikipedia is for information be? Um…. nothing. Zero. Nada. They just wouldn’t get a kick back.

It’s generating an “approved” key where the registrars make all of their money. It’s about the money. It’s greed. Even from foundations like Mozilla – they could easily solve this by endorsing a free and open certificate signing authority. They haven’t. I expect more from them. Some leadership in this would be nice. Where is Lessig on this? Why is there no outrage?

I’ll tell you why? Because it’s too geeky. Too technical. People zone out. zOMG, I like to create things. I bore myself talking about this crap. But it matters. Encrypt it all. Now. And do it for free. If my client buys a domain name why do I have to do ANYTHING to encrypt it? Don’t they deserve that? Should encryption be the default. I THINK SO. And I don’t think you should have to pay for it given it is as simple as DNS and could easily be included.

And yet the powers that be continue to be the “Certificate Authorities” and they continue to make money causing only 4 to 5 % of the web to be encrypted. So you and I continue to be the victim.

Please tell me someone out there is a little outraged by this? Not that I/we/you aren’t the problem as well…. read on …

To emphasize the point on weak passwords (again – this is YOUR responsibility, but irrelevant if on an unencrypted connection), these are the actual top 10 passwords used on Adobe logins (mind you this software costs thousands of dollars and this is the key to get it.) 1,911,938 of your fellow citizens chose “123456” as their password. Seriously. Another 345,834 people chose the password of …. wait for it …. “password.”

Rank	Count	Actual (no really) Passwords
---	-------	------------
1	1,911,938	123456
2	446,162	123456789
3	345,834	password
4	211,659	adobe123
5	201,580	12345678
6	130,832	qwerty
7	124,253	1234567
8	113,884	111111
9	83,411	photoshop
10	82,694	123123

One simple solution that would significantly reduce network attacks. Encrypt every site. At no cost beyond the price of the domain name. Make it easy. And free.

Dear non-technical people – please stay with me for a moment. I know I have to use a bit of geek speak but I want to try to explain the ruse that is being played on you. That it isn’t needed. That the cost of certificates is almost non-existent and you are the victims.

Encryption explained in one paragraph (simplified)

If I give you the number 21 and ask you what prime numbers divide into it besides 1, there is only one way to find out and that is to try every prime number. But if I give you 7 (my “public key”) and you can verify very quickly that it divides to a prime. That’s it.

Solution – every web site is encrypted with SSL by default and you have to pay extra to NOT encrypt your website. Done.

Obstacles – the companies that sell SSL certificates don’t want that. I pay $300/year for our wildcard certificate and what I am proposing is that they be given away for FREE TO EVERYONE WHO GETS A DOMAIN NAME.

Seriously, this isn’t a game people. YOU, as an individual need to not use dumb passwords. As programmers say, like it or not, “you can’t fix stupid.” Yet I do have sympathy given the average human has NO IDEA of the cyperwar that isnt pending, it’s happening NOW!
Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 4.42.20 AM
Thus WE, all of us need to have everything encrypted end to end to avoid the obvious. Occam’s razor.