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Canadian VPN provider Windscribe admitted that the seized Ukrainian servers were not encrypted

Canadian VPN provider Windscribe admitted that the seized Ukrainian servers were not encrypted

Windscribe, a Canadian VPN provider, says it realized that two of its servers that were seized by Ukrainian authorities last year were unencrypted, leaving open the possibility that, at least temporarily, someone could access the traffic. could reach.

The company has been making changes to its infrastructure to improve security since the incident was first detected earlier this month.

Asked by IT World Canada whether the incident would affect its business, the company's co-founder Yegor Sak said that "it remains to be seen. We're very receptive to transparency, and we haven't seen any increase in cancellations."

Responding to an email to questions, Sak said the lack of encryption on the servers, which was supposed to protect the service and customers, "was the result of human error. We have modified our procedures to prevent this from happening in the future."

"We messed up, we discovered a proper solution and implemented it. We could have avoided saying anything and completely conformed to the 'industry norm' and you would have never heard of it. But It would be against the spirit of our work."

Based in Richmond Hill, Ont., Windscribe has 63 servers around the world running the open-source OpenVPN virtual private network platform. The company promises to encrypt browsing activity, block ads, and unblock geographically restricted online entertainment content through those worldwide servers.

Asked if he's sure the only servers in Ukraine that aren't encrypted, Sak replied, "It doesn't matter anymore, because we've deployed a stopgap solution last week that allows any key or secret." Eliminates the need to store the VPN server itself.

"Despite its encryption status, no user data ever lived there, and as of last Friday no sensitive secrets existed on disk. It only gives us breathing room to implement RAM servers ... which Disk encryption is a better solution, as it doesn't even require the existence of a hard disk."

The incident began on June 24, when two of Windscribe's hosted servers in Ukraine were seized by authorities as part of an investigation into alleged criminal activity in April, 2020, the company said in a blog describing the events. . The hosting provider had failed to tell Windscribe that an order to confiscate the servers had been given.

"We have no reason to believe that the servers were compromised or that there was any unauthorized access prior to the seizure," the company said in the blog. "Since we do not log VPN traffic, no customer data from those servers is at any risk during operation."

However, it was realized that there was an OpenVPN server certificate and its private key on the disk of those two servers. "Although we have encrypted servers in high-sensitivity areas, the servers in question were running a legacy stack and were not encrypted," the company explained.

A custom certificate authority used to verify that the client's computer is talking to the VPN server thinks it is talking, Sak explained. With OpenVPN, the certificate authority is distributed inside the OpenVPN configuration.

"In extremely limited cases," Windscribe acknowledged, someone with that private key, and "with a very high level of resources" and access to the customer's network, could impersonate a Windscribe VPN server and run through it. VPN can capture tunnel traffic. To do so "the Ukrainian authorities have hypothetical ability", it added.

It insisted that this could happen only if all four of the following conditions were met:

The attacker has control over the client's network and can intercept all communications (otherwise known as a man-in-the-middle attack or MITM);
Client is using a legacy DNS resolver (legacy DNS traffic is unencrypted and subject to MITM);
the attacker has the ability to manipulate the client's unencrypted DNS queries (DNS entries used to select the IP address of one of Windscribe's servers);
And the client is not using windswept application. Windscribe apps connect over Internet Protocol and not DNS entry.
If all four conditions are met, someone with access to those servers will be able to see the unencrypted traffic inside the client's VPN tunnel. However, Sak said, traffic captured prior to seizure cannot be decrypted, even if one has the correct key.

"It took more than a year to seize the server," Sak said in response to our questions, "We are confident that the impact will be minimal or non-existent given the requirements to execute any type of attack and normal capability." was equal. local law enforcement that we spoke to."

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