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Microsoft CryptoAPI Spoofing (CVE-2020-0601)

Jan 17 2020

Trust Me…

We’ve all gotten used to a trust model on the Internet, and it’s mostly worked. We trust we have a private connection to a website because of the HTTPS certificates presented by the server and verified by our browser. Our browsers are fairly good at warning us when there is a problem, like invalid certificates. So, we confidently send credit card numbers, bank account information, and other information over the Internet, knowing that these technologies will keep us safe.

… or Not

CVS-2020-0601 has turned our trust model upside down. Not because of the design of the crypto/certificate chain of SSL/HTTPS, but because an implementation of the certificate checking on some Windows systems is flawed, failing to detect invalid, spoofed certificates. 

Like a fictitious face mask from Mission Impossible, attackers can easily spoof a valid certificate, presenting to you what looks like a valid certificate signed from a trusted authority, with no warnings, no errors from your browser.


On Tuesday, January 14, 2020, Microsoft issued a security update addressing several patches, including a fix for CVE-2020-0601, a critical vulnerability in the Microsoft CryptoAPI (crypt32.dll) discovered and reported by NSA. The fix ensures that the Windows CryptoAPI library completely and properly validates ECC certificates (commonly used in X.509 certificates).

CVE-2020-0601 is a vulnerability in the Windows cryptographic library crypt32.dll, which implements many of the certificate and cryptographic messaging functions in the CryptoAPI, such as encrypting and decrypting data using digital certificates and validating the Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) certificates. 

CVE-2020-0601, also referred to as CurveBall, is a spoofing vulnerability or flaw in the way the certificates are loaded without a proper verification of the explicit curve parameters in the certificates. This allows an attacker to supply his own generated X.509 certificates by using an “explicit parameters” option to set it.

This affects Windows 10 endpoints and Windows Server 2016/2019, allowing spoofing of certificates used in trust validation:

  • HTTPS connections
  • Signed files and emails
  • Signed executable code processes

From an adversarial context, Curveball X.509 cert chain validation is susceptible to:

  • MITM Attacks: HTTPS/SSL certificate authorities can be spoofed without being detected thereby allowing MITM attacks from a fake server which appears to have a validly signed HTTPS/SSL certificate.
  • Signed File/Malware Attack: Root certificate authorities like MicrosoftECCProductRootCertificateAuthority.cer can be spoofed without being detected thereby allowing malware to appear to be signed by a valid authority.

Netskope Protection

Netskope protects clients from HTTPS/SSL MITM attacks arising from this vulnerability through our Next-Gen Secure Web Gateway. Even if you are using vulnerable software and accessing a server that is trying to exploit this vulnerability, you will be protected. Netskope properly validates the server certificates, ensuring that the exploit never reaches the client.


We strongly recommended upgrading the machines to the latest security update provided by Microsoft.

To verify whether you are vulnerable, our friends at Kudelski security have created a webpage with a POC.  If you are vulnerable, you will see a page with a “Hello World” message on it. If not, you will see no such message, only a blank page or a certificate error.

author image
Ashwin Vamshi
Ashwin Vamshi is a Security Researcher with innate interest in targeted attacks and malwares using cloud services. He is primarily focusing in identifying new attack vectors and malwares, campaigns and threat actors using ‘cloud as an attack vector.’

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