Tuesday Jun 16, 2009

Next-Generation Security for the Apache Web Server

Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) is a next-generation public-key cryptographic technology that is more resource efficient than RSA (learn why) and was recently endorsed by the NSA for protecting sensitive US Government Information (see The Case for ECC and Suite B).

Sun Labs has played a major role in promoting wide-spread industry adoption of this technology by:

  1. Leading the standardization of ECC within SSL/TLS, the dominant security protocol used on the Internet (see RFC 4492 and its earlier versions).
  2. Contributing ECC technology to OpenSSL (version 0.9.8 and later) and NSS/Mozilla (version 3.8 and later) -- two cryptographic libraries that power the world's most popular open source web server (Apache) and browser (Firefox), respectively.
  3. Initiating and leading a cross-vendor ECC Interoperability Forum (with participants from Apache, Certicom, Microsoft, Mozilla, OpenSSL, Red Hat, RSA, Sun and Verisign) to ensure seamless interoperability between ECC-enabled offerings from different companies.

ECC has been part of Firefox since October 2006 when version 2.0 was released but isn't yet included in the default build of the Apache web server (see Bug 40132). I recently updated the patch and corresponding instructions to create an ECC-enabled version of Apache 2.2.11 with OpenSSL 1.0.0-beta2. If you happen to try out the patch, I'd love to get your feedback.

In case you are wondering "why should I care?", think of this as another step in reducing the computational cost of security so service providers like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Yahoo can turn on HTTPS by default for all user interactions (not just the login phase), thereby boosting privacy on the Internet.

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Vipul Gupta

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