Tip of the Day #3

Checking the Security Certificate of the sites you visit with a few clicks.

Site spoofing is one of the most popular methods for attackers to gain access to various logins and passwords. One way this can happen is if a program installs a malicious root certificate.  Sometimes the offending program can even be something from your manufacturer, like Lenovo, which has a reputation for using a dubious vendor.

A root certificate is part of the SSL protocol, put simply, it’s key stored on your computer.  When you visit a site, the key is presented and then matched to the sites private key. It’s a way to verify that the site is who it says it is, to ensure that you are getting a proper and secure connection.  But if your root certificate is a fake, a program capable of intercepting and manipulating https traffic (like your antivirus software) , might change or manipulate what you’re getting.  The fake certificate will display the trusted “Lock” symbol in the browsers address bar, showing you that you have a secured connection, but the connection is NOT safe.

I could go on for hours on certificates, what they are and how you might get a bad one. But for today’s Tip, I’d like to show you a simple way to check the certificate of the site you’re on.

We check the certificates to:
1. Verify that the certificate has been issued to the site you are on.
For example: if you’re on Facebook, but the certificate is issued to Avast, then you have a bogus certificate.
2. To make sure the certificate is up-to-date.

In Chrome:

Right-click the little green padlock in the address bar.
Click “Details” link in the dialog box that drops down.
Then, the lower half of your browser window will display the security overview. If you have not hit any warnings or alerts by now, Click the “View Certificate” button.

In Firefox:

Click on the information icon, a circle with an “i” in it (generally means information), next to the green padlock in the address bar.
Click the right arrow [>] to get a pop-up with info in it.
Click the “More Information” in the dropdown.

In IE: 

Click the yellow padlock in the address bar.
Click “View Certificates” in the dropdown.

I always recommend using the browser plugin HTTPS Everwhere.

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