• Do Government Websites Care About HTTPS?

    Government websites play a critical role in the transfer of information to citizens, visitors, businessmen and others throughout their lives. Most importantly many people trust government websites implicitly. By virtue of this immense trust placed in websites which are relied on for information dissemination and collection by the government, one would expect that something as basic as SSL authentication (via certificates) would be in use by these websites to prove unambiguously to visitors that they are really connecting to the website they expect.

    Consider the fact that malicious individuals and organizations have already targeted government organizations including the FDIC, IRS, FBI and many more with success. The government response trying to educate the masses can be found in many places. [1] [2] [3]

    The goal of this experiment:

    • To determine whether government sites provide authentication information using HTTPS.
    • To identify characteristics of government websites using or not using HTTPS.

    Experiment methodology:

    An initial corpus of 150 government websites was mined (via USA.gov). Each website was tested for three signs that indicate whether they employ any authentication mechanism to prove their identity to a visitor.

    This experiment was conducted between February 24th and February 25th, 2010.

    The three points are listed below:

    1. Does the website offer a SSL connection secured by a certificate?
      • If it does, we identify the issuer and the expiration date.
    2. Does the website respond to the HTTPS request within 60 seconds?
      • If it does not, we identify the server as mis-configured.
    3. Does the website seem to have pages, which have an “https://” in the URL?
      • We find these pages as indexed by Google (e.g. https://secure.site.gov/login.asp).

    We present the most interesting results here:

    • Only 53% of government sites offer an SSL certificate to prove their identity.
      Note: The certificates for these sites will not expire in less than 30 days.
    • Approximately 6% of government sites have self-signed SSL certificates or certificates signed by authorities which are not widely recognized.
      Note: Accessing these websites via a modern browser will cause a warning message to be displayed.
    • Approximately 13% of government sites use expired SSL certificates to prove their identity.
    • Approximately 1% of government sites have credentials which will expire in less than 30 days.
    • A whopping 33% of government sites with HTTPS are mis-configured. However, they work fine with HTTP.
    Significant numbers of government websites are not using authentication mechanisms effectively.

    Significant numbers of government websites are not using authentication mechanisms effectively.


    This limited experiment shows that websites operated by the government have a long way to go in terms of proving their identity to end users. These issues should not be treated lightly as they provide impetus to malicious individuals to develop phishing scams targeting government owned infrastructure.

    Note: Due to the sensitive nature of this information we will not disclose specific government sites with security issues.

    • get a friggin proper cert.. can’t believe government sites are using self-signed stuff

      Posted by anon on February 25th

    • Government…
      usually the first to “point their finger” while being the last to look in the mirror.

      Posted by g7w on February 25th