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United Kingdom Education Networking Privacy The Internet Your Rights Online

School Tricks Pupils Into Installing a Root CA 417

First time accepted submitter paddysteed writes "I go to secondary school in the UK. I went digging around the computers there and found that on the schools machines, there was a root CA from the school. I then suspected that the software they instruct windows users to install on their own hardware to gain access to the BYOD network installed the same certificate. I created a windows virtual machine and connected to the network the way that was recommended. Immediately afterwards I checked the list of root CA's, and found my school's. I thought the story posted a few days ago was bad, but what my school has done is install their certificate on people's own machines — which I think is far worse. This basically allows them to intercept and modify any HTTPS traffic on their network. Considering this is a boarding school, and our only method of communicating to the outside world is over their network, I feel this is particularly bad. We were not told about this policy and we have not signed anything which would excuse it. I confronted the IT department and they initially denied everything. I left and within five minutes, the WiFi network was down then as quickly as it had gone down, it was back up. I went back and they confirmed that there was a mistake and they had 'fixed' it. They also told me that the risk was very low and the head of networks told me he was willing to bet his job on it. I asked them to instruct people to remove the bad certificate from their own machines, but they claimed this was unnecessary due to the very low risk. I want to take this further but to get the school's management interested I will need to explain what has happened and why it is bad to non-technical people and provide evidence that what has been done is potentially illegal."
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School Tricks Pupils Into Installing a Root CA

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  • In their defence. (Score:5, Informative)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @05:03AM (#46438469)

    I work at a school. Yes, we have all machines on their network trust us as a root CA. We do that with good reason.

    Currently in most countries, especially the UK, there is an atmosphere of paranoia bordering on terror anywhere that minors and sex may come within a hundred meters of each other. Even so, teenagers tend to meet their stereotype and display a fascination with sexual imagery. This means that it is absolutely essential that schools maintain a comprehensive internet content filter. This is not an optional extra. Without it, it's only a matter of time (and not much time) before some student happens across Dirty Dave's Scat and Fisting Gallery and shows it off to all his classmates. This in turn results in many terrified parents, legal action against the school for destroying jimmy's innocent little mind, and columns in the Daily Mail demanding the head be fired.

    If we could not filter the internet, there would be no option but to forgo it. If we could not filter the ssl sites, there would be no option but to block ssl entirely by blocking all traffic on port 443. There is no possibility of effectively filtering SSL without installing a root CA, and so that is what we have to do for any device on our network that needs SSL connectivity.

    Got that? No filtering, no internet. That's just the way it is. I don't like censorship more than anyone else, but this is the real world and sometimes ideology has to take a back seat to practicality and an angry mob of parents. Besides, without effective filtering, the students would spend more time playing flash games, watching the yogscast, listening to music videos and checking facebook than actually doing their work. Giving the students a locked-down and heavily censored internet is still better than giving them no internet at all, which would hold them back academically.

  • by Zarhan ( 415465 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @05:12AM (#46438501)

    I don't see the problem with the tech itself. If you have a "BYOD's allowed" policy, that also usually states that "if you put your own device in, here are the rules". Rules may state installing the network owner's root CA and allowing for traffic to be inspected.

    In most cases, this is intended to be benevolent - it's kind of hard to run threat detection algorithms on an encrypted connection. In business environments, DLP and similar can of course be used too.

    Now, in here I think the key issue was that the users were not told about the practice, and were not asked to agree to these stipulations. And of course, the old adage about not attributing to malice what can be explained by incompetence also applies here - if the issue got "fixed" then it might have been simply just that, incompetence. Somebondy enabled the same SSL interception on the student network that they are using for faculty, or similar.

  • by joelleo ( 900926 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @05:25AM (#46438547)

    Per the subject - that root ca only covers your school's applications. If you go to https://www.yourschool.com/ [yourschool.com] it ensures that your computer can vet out the complete certificate trust chain. However, if you can establish a connection to https://www.xhamster.com/ [xhamster.com] your school will not be able to peer into the encrypted contents of the connection unless you're connecting via a proxy that they control.

    If you think "Root CA BAAAAD!" then you're not looking deeply enough into ssl or the security concepts behind the certificates to understand their ramifications. Stay in school and dig deeper.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 09, 2014 @05:36AM (#46438575)

    Why are you assuming that we don't know a proxy would be required?

    Why are you assuming, for that matter, that a proxy changes anything? Whether they're mandatory proxies or transparent proxies, it doesn't change the fact that the man in the middle has everything he needs.

  • by joelleo ( 900926 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @05:47AM (#46438597)

    A root ca for an organization cannot interpose itself into the certificate chain of another organization - that's kinda the whole point to the certificate "chain" of trust. His school would have to either use their own root ca and force clients to use their proxy - a very real and frequently implemented setup - or have spoofed a cert on the site as provided by its web server which chains up to his school's root, which is very unlikely and very unwieldy.

    In his case, the root ca he's so concerned about will only secure comms with the servers that use a cert derived from that root ca or one of its subordinates. If he goes to https://www.anonymouscowards.c... [anonymouscowards.com] and the cert provided by the server doesn't successfully chain up to his school's root cert he'll receive a giant ssl error saying the connection is untrusted. There's no mitm here unless he goes through a proxy.

  • Re:sneaky but..... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Architect_sasyr ( 938685 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @06:11AM (#46438661)
    The entire department of education out here (.AU) installs a root CA with the express purpose of intercepting HTTPS to "protect the children". There are secondary certs installed at every school so that 802.1x doesn't crap out when you try to sign in (in point of fact, pretty sure windows installs the profile by default when you bind a machine).

    There is the potential for creepy, but pretty sure 99% of the techs at schools aren't actually smart enough to intercept traffic. Being one of the 1% who can (actually not a school tech, a consultant, but anyway) I can say in all honesty that there is better porn available for free on the Internet. I'm only going to look if you kick up a fuss about my ability to look ;)
  • by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @06:40AM (#46438727)

    Their intent may be just fine. For instance, you want want to have an internal CA installed so that you can deploy SSL-enabled services without having to buy certificates from a commercial CA.

    Of course it allows SSL traffic interception, which is likely to be illegal, but nothing proves it was done, or even planned. The the real problem here is that the CA framework allows any CA to sign any certificate.

  • Normal. (Score:5, Informative)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @07:08AM (#46438789) Homepage

    I work in schools.
    I work in UK schools.
    I work in IT in UK schools.

    This is normal. Sorry, but there's nothing shocking here.

    You join our domain, we get the right to push any and all security measures to your client that we deem necessary. If you don't want to allow it, don't join our domain (which also means we probably won't authorise you to use our Internet connection, etc.)

    The domain will have a "Default Domain Policy" that almost certainly includes software you don't want (but we insist you have), settings you'd rather not have (but which we will enforce on you) and things like this - installation of a required domain certificate so we can check your not using OUR SCHOOL FILTER to do illegal / illicit things.

    Chances are if you read your network acceptable usage policy, it states this. The alternative is you don't get network access. Because we are LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE for what is accessed through the network on our network, as well as the protection of our internal data and services.

    Complain all you like. The alternative is that we block SSL site-wide. That means no Facebook at all, by the way. Or GMail. Or Hotmail. Or anything else that uses SSL by default.

    We have a legal duty to monitor, record and analyse the logs of Internet traffic to ensure our child-protection policy (a legally-required policy) is followed. Additionally, it's OUR resource. If you want to use your own external 3G connection on your own time, argue for that. Chances are it will fail.

    If you want to use the SCHOOL connection on SCHOOL time for NON-SCHOOL business, that's not going to happen. However if you want to use it for SCHOOL BUSINESS then you are required to allow us to apply our domain policy. If that, at any particular place, happens to include SSL certificates, monitoring software (potentially even INVISIBLE monitoring software like Securus, Ranger, etc.) then that's what you get.

    Sorry, but as an IT Manager specialising in schools, and working in state, private and boarding schools from primary to further education, this is bog-standard and has happened for years. I believe even places like LGfL (a London-wide, government-backed school IT services supplier) do it.

    There's a reason - we are required to protect our systems and protect ALL the children. That means everything gets summarised, logged and monitored. If we then need to dig into detailed logs, we can enable that option and do that too. Because - as in a previous school I worked for many years ago - we get things like members of staff browsing child pornography on school time. Yes, they are that stupid. And yes, they get caught. And, sorry, but our child-protection and data-protection policies take precedence over you going on your private Facebook after hours and we can't spend the time to distinguish hours, locations, staff-types, etc. for everyone.

    If you don't like it, do not join your computer to a domain. If you are on the domain, it's literally our DOMAIN. Our rules. Clearly stated. That you would have agreed to.

    Please, also don't act like your the first person ever that this has happened to. It's been standard practice for at least the last 15 years I've been working IT in schools in the UK.

  • two points (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @07:19AM (#46438815) Homepage Journal

    First, a school network is not a public network and it can run any policy it wants, including intercepting and monitoring traffic. You don't have to sign anything, using the network is implicit consent to the rules it is run by. The only legal requirement in my country (so your laws may differ) is disclosure of those rules, you must be able to look them up somewhere.

    Second, regarding danger. The danger is exactly equivalent of the lowest security among the machine(s) that have a copy of the school root certificate (the private key part). If any of them gets compromised and the attacker gets a copy, he can do everything the school does, including interception and manipulation of traffic. If the school rates that as "low", then it assumes that users of the network don't do anything of personal importance, like online banking.

  • by davidhoude ( 1868300 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @07:29AM (#46438841)

    Do you know what a CA is? Once they leave the network, the school isn't able to decrypt SSL traffic.

  • Re:Normal. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @07:33AM (#46438859) Homepage

    Just because it is normal doesn't mean it is legal, and if it is legal it doesn't mean it is right or ethical. In most European countries this would be very illegal.

  • by penix1 ( 722987 ) on Sunday March 09, 2014 @08:34AM (#46439041) Homepage

    Ummm... No...

    After Charles I of England became king in 1625, this religious conflict worsened. Parliament increasingly opposed the King's authority. In 1629, Charles dissolved Parliament with no intention of summoning a new one, in an ill-fated attempt to neutralize his enemies there, who included numerous lay Puritans. With the religious and political climate so hostile and threatening, many Puritans decided to leave the country. Some of the migration was from the expatriate English communities in the Netherlands of nonconformists and Separatists who had set up churches there since the 1590s.

    The Winthrop Fleet of 1630 of eleven ships, led by the flagship Arbella, delivered 800 passengers to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Migration continued until Parliament was reconvened in 1640, at which point the scale dropped off sharply. In 1641, when the English Civil War began, some colonists returned to England to fight on the Puritan side, and many stayed, since Oliver Cromwell, himself an Independent, backed Parliament.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M... [wikipedia.org]

    The Quakers had the same issues and they too migrated to the US to escape religious persecution. Look it up.

    So to say it was "religious freedom they were running away from" is totally false.

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin