In the Wheelhouse: SSL Concerns Met With Silence

Analysis of News Events
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IBM Domino customers continue to kick and scream about security. Will there be a supported solution in the near future?


Author's Note: After publication of this article, IBM announced support for SHA-2 hashed SSL certificates via an upcoming Interim Fix.


Two months ago, I was literally on a 17-hour ferry ride in the North Atlantic writing a piece entitled "IBM, We Have an SSL Problem." It was one of those pieces that just came together the way musicians sometimes write complete songs in about a half hour.


Today's piece kind of fell out of me in just over an hour. It means something. It essentially wrote itself because it needed to be written.


A few community articles and blog posts came out around the same time as my August 18 SSL article and have continued on a regular basis. Here are a few of them:


The last two links, by the way, are related to the SSL V3 Poodle bug. If you're running Domino, this affects you. Of course, if you're running Windows, the IBM HTTP Server quasi-solution will work for you. However, if you're reading this, you're probably a customer running IBM i, Linux, or AIX.


An Outpouring of Concern with No Visible Action


On August 21, an IBMer created a post in the Notes and Domino 9 Social Edition Forum asking customers to create a PMR and reference the existing Enhancement Request, also known as a Software Problem Report (SPR), number ABAI7SASE6 in order to add weight to it and probably gauge customer interest. The 50 or so responses that came back were either "yes, we want SHA-2 yesterday" or an IBMer post gathering more information or clarifying something.


After two months since the beginning of the customer outcry, more and more customers have come out of the woodwork on Twitter, LinkedIn, user groups, and such to express concern about the lack of SHA-2 hashed SSL certificate support. Just Google Domino and SHA-2/SSL over the last two months, and you'll get more than a few hits.


Domino community member Jesse Galagher even put forth a solution to reverse proxy Domino using Ngnix, a cross-platform solution that would take care of the HTTPS issue. However, Domino has many other services that use SSL, and not all would not be satisfied. While I like the ingenuity of the Ngnix solution, I don't want to use it because of the aforementioned reason that not all SSL services would be covered. It's a fine solution, but in my opinion, it's a temporary measure for HTTPS. More importantly, I don't believe we as a community should fix this problem. Domino needs to conform to modern and widely accepted security standards out of the box, given that we customers pay for the support and maintenance of that product. Maintenance means conforming to current standards. If that means rebuilding the entire SSL stack and HTTP stack, then so be it. If we fix the problem ourselves and accept that IBM isn't going to do it, then we've just reinforced unacceptable behaviour.


Perhaps between now and the time this article is published on October 20, IBM will have come out with some sort of public statement. If they have, then they'll get a half-hearted bravo from me and I'll certainly edit this post with a new preface and a link to it. If they haven't at least made a statement, then something is seriously wrong. Now, I'm not trying to paint all of IBM with the same brush because other IBM products have had SHA-2 and TLS support for a good few years. This is a Domino problem more than an overall IBM problem.


I've heard through the grapevine at the Midwest Lotus Users Group (MWLUG) that some IBMers were "caught by surprise" about the whole "SHA-2 thing," which is surprising for a couple of reasons. The first is that SHA-1 weaknesses began to show nearly 10 years ago. This is why you see many, many products (including IBM's) supporting SHA-2 and TLS. The second surprising fact is that the original SPR for this is dated from 2010. The Notes/Domino community began asking for this in 2009 via IdeaJam. This isn't new at all, and nobody should be surprised that this is a valid requirement for Domino. And through that same grapevine, I hear that apparently some developers are "looking at it."


To give an idea of how much of a community response there has been, I received a LinkedIn response from an IBMer that "the 2009 created SPR has already a weight of 3000+ (never seen such value in 15 years), usually above 200 a SPR gets attention." This comment is about a month old, so I wonder how high it's climbed since then. How much will it take to force enough tension for change?


So why hasn't anything been done about it yet? Why does IBM believe that putting an IBM HTTP Server for Windows customers (as of yet) is an acceptable solution to suggest? Seriously, do the rest of us on AIX, Linux (on x86-64, Power Systems, and System z), and IBM i not matter? Or maybe we wouldn't notice when our users with Google Chrome start asking us why their browser starts displaying odd security messages about potentially unsecured content? Or when we renew our SSL certificates and can't seem to buy them for SHA-1 anymore or we buy them for SHA-2 and find out they don't work? Maybe there's a parallel with the Dunkin' Donuts tagline of "America Runs on Dunkin'" in that some people sincerely believe that "America runs on Windows." I've heard people quip that "America runs on Outlook" a number of times as well, but try to tell that to someone who runs IBM Notes. And try to tell a System z (Linux) or Power Systems (IBM i, Linux, AIX) customer that "America runs on Windows." It's a narrow-sighted argument that will lose on every day of the week that ends with a "y" if you're talking to someone with a serious investment in big IBM iron.


I've heard people mention that what we're seeing is resourcing problems on the way to 2015. Perhaps. You hear stories that areas all over IBM are being stretched a little thin in terms of both development and support, with maximizing shareholder value in mind. That's certainly a possibility. Is the effort to make SHA-2 or TLS a reality too much considering Mail Next is on the horizon?


It also makes you wonder about the forthcoming Mail Next and the actual future of Domino. While IBM Mail Next Product Manager Scott Souder was kind enough to comment on my critical article, noting the transparency of the Notes/Domino roadmap and how it ties into and/or intersects with Mail Next, he didn't really answer anything about my questions regarding how the products would interact at allother than to make a pitch for me to attend ConnectED (formerly Connect, formerly Lotusphere) in January to learn about it. While Mail Next has some foundations in Domino, that doesn't mean you'll see Domino HTTP as the actual HTTP server. It might require IBM HTTP Server in front of it for all I know. Maybe we'll find out at ConnectED.


If Domino gets SHA-2 and/or TLS support, then I'll be satisfied. But I'm not happy.


This kind of groundswell regarding a security issue demands a response far sooner than two months later.


And a Domino user community who creates an outpouring of concern like this deserves better.


Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly


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