Symantec Responds To Google Distrusting Its Certificates

Google announced in March that its Chrome browser would gradually stop trusting certificates issued by Symantec because the company improperly issued 30,000 certificates over the last few years. Symantec responded today with a blog post saying it's met with Google to discuss the issue several times and that its customers have said the change would "cause significant business disruption and additional expense."

Certificates are used to verify a website operator's identity. If everything's on the up-and-up, browsers can then form secure connections with the site, which allows you to send or access sensitive data without having to worry about it being compromised. This means it's important for certificates to be properly issued; otherwise an ostensibly secure connection might actually put your private information at risk.

Google discovered in 2015 that Symantec issued certificates for its domain even though it never requested those certificates. This led both companies to investigate Symantec's certificate issuing process, and eventually they discovered several mis-issued certificates. Google said roughly 30,000 certificates were improperly issued; Symantec said in a message to its customers that only 127 certificates weren't properly issued.

Symantec also said that the mis-issued certificates "resulted in no consumer harm" and that it believed Google's statements were "exaggerated and misleading." The company added that it would "vigorously defend the safe and productive use of the internet, including minimizing any potential disruption caused by the proposal in Google’s blog post," and that it was "open to discussing the matter with Google" in the future.

Now the company has issued another message to its customers about Chrome not trusting its certificates. Symantec said it's met with Google several times to work towards a solution that won't result in problems for its customers or consumers. Here's the crux of the post:

We have also heard consistently from customers like you that the transition to fully adopt Google's proposal within its suggested timeframe would cause significant business disruption and additional expense - especially within complex IT infrastructures. Mitigating these concerns is a top priority for us as we develop our counter proposal and provide responses to the salient questions the community has posted online. While we believe Google understands the burden their proposal creates, if they decide to move ahead with their original plan, I want to reassure you that Symantec will keep your websites, web servers or web applications operational across all browsers. Specifically, this may require Symantec to reissue your certificates, which we would do as needed, at no charge to you, to meet the fully expected validity period.

This isn't an easy problem to solve. Google acknowledged in March that Chrome distrusting Symantec-issued certificates would likely result in consumers blaming the browser for their problems, and as Symantec made clear today, its customers would have to scramble to meet Google's requirements. A failure on either company's part could endanger consumer privacy or make it hard for website operators to serve their customers.

Symantec asked its customers to fill out an anonymous survey about the issue. It has just four questions:

  • How important are Symantec's Extended Validation certificates to you
  • What are the barriers to adopting shorter validity certificates
  • On what timeframe could you successfully adopt shorter validity certificates
  • What impact would Google's proposal have on your business?

That seems (unsurprisingly) one-sided.

Affected businesses have a while to respond. Chrome will slowly require shorter validity certificates over time--Chrome 59 will trust certificates for 33 months, for example, whereas Chrome 64 will trust them for only nine months. Chrome 64 isn't expected to reach the average consumer until early 2018, however, which leaves businesses almost a year to implement the shorter validity certificates to avoid downtime for their websites.

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