Silent browser redirect on invalid certificate
Nov 15th, 2018 by miki

Hit an odd browser behaviour today.

Trawling through some of those nice and dandy terms for a service (no I won’t tell) I followed a link and suddenly hit an “insecure connection” message from Firefox.

Examining the certificate using the usual “openssl s_client” and “openssl x509” tools surely enough revealed that the served certificate didn’t include the second-level but only on the third-level www sub-domain. Strangely enough I discovered that when entering the same URL directly into the address bar of Firefox the connection was somehow redirected to the www sub-domain and loaded fine without any complaints from Firefox.

Looking into what was happening on the wire using wget directed to not check the certificate (–no-check-certificate) and displaying server responses (–server-response/-S) revealed that the server behind the misconfigured certificate was aiming to issue a HTTP 301 redirect to the valid www sub-domain of the site (actual site replaced by and localhost ip);

$ wget –server-response –no-check-certificate –output-document=/dev/null
–2018-11-15 18:59:14–
Resolving (…
Connecting to (||:443… connected.
WARNING: no certificate subject alternative name matches
requested host name ‘’.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response…
HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently
Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8
Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2018 17:59:13 GMT
Content-Length: 152
Location: [following]

Apparently Firefox’s behaviour in this scenario differs depending on the method in which the user is supplying the URL, in some cases silently ignoring the TLS/SSL warning. A little more experimentation revealed that it was actually not the source of the URL, link followed versus one entered in address bar, that made any difference. Instead it is the presence of a trailing slash on the URL that triggers the silent suppression of the serious red flag that the second-level domain asked to be fetched is not present in the served certificate. I was fooled by the fact that when entering URLs in the address bar Firefox suggests ending the URL on a slash (‘/’) if it is not already present. Manually removing this when editing in the address bar also makes Firefox display the security warning. Alas, the link I originally followed was also missing the trailing slash and behaved as expected by throwing me into a security warning.

The whole “feature” of silently ignoring a security issue seemed very odd to me, but a bit of searching revealed that this was apparently championed by Google Chrome a couple of years ago. It is described in this servertastic post which also directs to a discussion on Twitter, with some key points replicated below, about its presence in Chrome and confirmation from a Chrome team member that the behaviour is intended.

The thread ends with a guy who had dug up the source code of the feature in Chromium (on which Chrome is based) known as “SSLCommonNameMismatchHandling” in file browser/ssl/ (see all mentions across code base).

This has obviously also trickled down into Firefox, however, not much mention of that is to be found. Not even traces of it by some quick searches of the mozilla-central codebase. Some day I promise (really!) to dig through all source of Mozilla and hunt down the implementation, but for now I’ll revert to a bit of practical experimentation showing the behaviour in the different browsers and operating systems I happen to have access to at the moment;

  • Ubuntu 16.04
    • Firefox 62.0.3: warning, with trailing ‘/’: No warning
    • Chromium 69.0.3497.81: no warning, with trailing ‘/’: no warning
  • Windows Server 2016
    • Firefox 62.0.2: warning, with trailing ‘/’: no warning
    • Google Chrome 70.3538.102: no warning, with trailing ‘/’: no warning
    • Internet Explorer 11.2580.14393.0: warning, with trailing ‘/’: warning
  • Windows Server 2008
    • Firefox 59.0.3: warning, with trailing ‘/’: warning
    • Google Chrome 70.3538.102: no warning, with trailing ‘/’: no warning
    • Internet Explorer 11.0.9600.19080: warning, with trailing ‘/’: warning

So somewhere between 59.0.3 and 62.0.2 Firefox also implemented a policy of silently accepting invalid certificates when certain non-obvious criteria is met (is the redirect actually followed and certs checked, or is “www.” just prefixed?), but this happens only when the URL ends on a slash. Go figure…

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