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Wednesday, 10 July 2019 08:42

Controversial UAE firm's Firefox request for certificate acceptance denied

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Controversial UAE firm's Firefox request for certificate acceptance denied Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Mozilla, the developers of the Firefox browser, has knocked back a request from Abu Dhabi-based security outfit DarkMatter to have certificates it issues be automatically accepted as genuine.

The company asked Mozilla some months ago to trust its root certificates in the Firefox certificate store. This store is meant for certificate authorities that are approved to issue HTTPS certificates

Wayne Thayer, certification authority program manager at Mozilla, said in a post to the Mozilla developers list that he had originally asked the community about distrusting DarkMatter’s current intermediate six CA certificates based on credible evidence of spying activities by the company.

Last month, The Intercept reported that DarkMatter operatives has discussed breaching the computers of people working for the investigative website.

In January, Reuters reported that DarkMatter had brought ex-National Security Agency hackers and other US intelligence and military veterans together with Emirati analysts to compromise the computers of political dissidents at home and abroad, including American citizens.

Thayer said: "While a decision to revoke trust in these intermediates would likely result in a denial of DarkMatter’s root inclusion request, the public discussion for that request has not yet begun. A decision not to revoke these intermediates does not necessarily mean that the inclusion request will be approved."

He said Mozilla’s principles should be at the heart of this decision. “The Mozilla Manifesto states: Individuals’ security and privacy on the Internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional.

"And our Root Store policy states: 'We will determine which CA certificates are included in Mozilla's root program based on the risks of such inclusion to typical users of our products'.”

Thayer said this made it clear that the foremost responsibility was to protect individuals who relied on Mozilla products.

"I believe this framing strongly supports a decision to revoke trust in DarkMatter’s intermediate certificates. While there are solid arguments on both sides of this decision, it is reasonable to conclude that continuing to place trust in DarkMatter is a significant risk to our users," he said.

"I will be opening a bug requesting the distrust of DarkMatter’s subordinate CAs pending Kathleen’s concurrence. I will also recommend denial of the pending inclusion request, and any new requests from DigitalTrust."

iTWire has contacted DarkMatter for comment.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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