Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Engineering Science


Electrical and Computer Engineering


Dr. Aleksander Essex


Transport Layer Security (TLS) is a mature cryptographic protocol, but has flexibility during implementation which can introduce exploitable flaws. New vulnerabilities are routinely discovered that affect the security of TLS implementations.

We discovered that discrete logarithm implementations have poor parameter validation, and we mathematically constructed a deniable backdoor to exploit this flaw in the finite field Diffie-Hellman key exchange. We described attack vectors an attacker could use to position this backdoor, and outlined a man-in-the-middle attack that exploits the backdoor to force Diffie-Hellman use during the TLS connection.

We conducted an Internet-wide survey of ephemeral finite field Diffie-Hellman (DHE) across TLS and STARTTLS, finding hundreds of potentially backdoored DHE parameters and partially recovering the private DHE key in some cases. Disclosures were made to companies using these parameters, resulting in a public security advisory and discussions with the CTO of a billion-dollar company.

We conducted a second Internet-wide survey investigating X.509 certificate name mismatch errors, finding approximately 70 million websites invalidated by these errors and additionally discovering over 1000 websites made inaccessible due to a combination of forced HTTPS and mismatch errors. We determined that name mismatch errors occur largely due to certificate mismanagement by web hosting and content delivery network companies. Further research into TLS implementations is necessary to encourage the use of more secure parameters.