Experiences Deploying Multi-Vantage-Point Domain Validation at Let's Encrypt

Authors: 

Henry Birge-Lee and Liang Wang, Princeton University; Daniel McCarney, Square Inc.; Roland Shoemaker, unaffiliated; Jennifer Rexford and Prateek Mittal, Princeton University

Abstract: 

An attacker can obtain a valid TLS certificate for a domain by hijacking communication between a certificate authority (CA) and a victim domain. Performing domain validation from multiple vantage points can defend against these attacks. We explore the design space of multi-vantage-point domain validation to achieve (1) security via sufficiently diverse vantage points, (2) performance by ensuring low latency and overhead in certificate issuance, (3) manageability by complying with CA/Browser forum requirements, and requiring minimal changes to CA operations, and (4) a low benign failure rate for legitimate requests. Our opensource implementation was deployed by the Let's Encrypt CA in February 2020, and has since secured the issuance of more than half a billion certificates during the first year of its deployment. Using real-world operational data from Let's Encrypt, we show that our approach has negligible latency and communication overhead, and a benign failure rate comparable to conventional designs with one vantage point. Finally, we evaluate the security improvements using a combination of ethically conducted real-world BGP hijacks, Internet-scale traceroute experiments, and a novel BGP simulation framework. We show that multi-vantage-point domain validation can thwart the vast majority of BGP attacks. Our work motivates the deployment of multi-vantage-point domain validation across the CA ecosystem to strengthen TLS certificate issuance and user privacy.

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