Technology

Google stops 'trusting' Chinese net regulator after lapse

Google building in China Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Google Chrome users will see a warning when visiting certain Chinese sites

A Chinese internet regulator has hit out at Google for no longer accepting its security certificates.

When browsing the internet, certificates are designed to ensure the communication between a computer and web server is secure.

Google said it would no longer accept certificates issued by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) following a security lapse.

The CNNIC said Google's decision was "unacceptable and unintelligible".

The CNNIC is responsible for providing certificates for websites with .cn domain names, as well as Chinese-language domains - including banks and government sites.

It means users of Google's Chrome browser will see a warning notice when trying to access sites with CNNIC certificates.

It will state that the website the user is attempting to access may be unsecure.

Vulnerable

Google discovered last month that unauthorised security certificates were issued to several of its own domains.

After an investigation, conducted with the help of the CNNIC, it became clear that there was a problem with MCS Holdings, a Cairo-based firm contracted by the CNNIC to provide certificates.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Security certificates are supposed to ensure that communication between users and websites is safe

Google said domains with security certificates issued by MCS Holdings were vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks - a method of hacking that involves intercepting communications between, for example, a person's computer and a web server.

MCS Holdings has said the problem was an accident and was due to human error.

While Google welcomed the CNNIC's help with the investigation, it said the regulator had "delegated their substantial authority to an organisation that was not fit to hold it".

As a result, Google has decided to no longer trust domains with certificates issued by, or on behalf of, the CNNIC.

Grace period

Users will be presented with a warning screen before being asked if they want to proceed to the "unsecure" site.

However, there will be some exceptions.

Google has offered a grace period to some major CNNIC-approved sites - such as banks - so they can obtain certificates from a different issuing authority.

The search giant said the CNNIC was welcome to reapply for trusted status "once suitable technical and procedural controls are in place".

But in a statement posted on Thursday, the regulator expressed anger, saying: "The decision that Google has made is unacceptable and unintelligible.

"CNNIC sincerely urge that Google would take users' rights and interests into full consideration."

More on this story