Friday, September 2, 2016

WoSign's secret purchase of StartCom; WoSign threatened legal actions over the disclosure

I called for WoSign's revocation earlier this week for its utter ignorance over security. However, WoSign is cross signed by StartCom. Meaning that as long as StartCom is trusted, even if WoSign is manually distrusted, all certificates from WoSign are still considered valid. What's more, now it looks like StartCom is actually purchased by WoSign.

A former StartCom employee broke the news that WoSign's secretly purchased StartCom in Nov 2015 without any notice to the public or StartCom users . He posted his finding on , all evidence from publicly available sources, and not bounded by NDA.
On Aug 30, Someone posted WoSign's secret purchase to the thread "Incidents involving the CA WoSign". On Sept 1st, the content was taken down from the website.

September 1, 2016:
I'm currently going under legal review of the site.
Content will not be available during this period.

If you want to see the original content, please go to mirror I also attached the full article at the end of this blog post.

As the content was removed in the original site and people are discussing the security of WoSign and StartCom and wondering about the missing article, I posted the mirror to the thread.

The CEO of WoSign Richard Wang, aka Gaohua Wang, the crucial person mentioned in letsphish, stated that
OK I try to say some that I wish I don't violate my company confidential policy.

1. Eddy told me that this guy is the former employee of StartCom, he violates the signed NDA that he must shutdown the site within the limit time. Every re-distribution the wrong information will heavy his penalty (including site cache or mirror site). I am sure every company don't like its former employee to expose company's confidential information.

2. WoSign invested in 5 companies worldwide including in North America, Europe and Asia (China), but my company is a private company that no any liability to expose everything that we don't like to expose. And Mozilla also don't have the policy that every CA must expose its shareholder and director.
3. Please don't bind WoSign incident problem with StartCom, it is two independent company that one registered in China and one located in Israel. StartCom and WoSign have maintained a business relationship for many years since 2011 when WoSign startup CA business. And WoSign root is cross signed by StartCom root due to the problem that root inclusion took long time.
Best Regards,
However, as you can read in the article, WoSign and StartCom currently share critical infrastructure, director and user trust. This purchase might also be able to explain the security nightmare of StartEncrypt, a StartCom copycat of LetsEncrypt, launched in 2016. A Google search of StartEncrypt will bring up a full page of results titled "StartEncrypt considered harmful today"

After I posted the letphish mirror in the thread, he replied to me personally that
Please remember this sentence:
Every re-distribution the wrong information will heavy his penalty (including site cache or mirror site).
You are harming him!
I replied that
You stated that he was a former employee of StartCom in 2015. After he left the company, what he learnt from public sources in 2016 is not bound by NDA. I do not appreciate you holding him hostage to suppress public and crucial information on understanding the trust of CA. Since WoSign is trying so hard to suppress such critical information, it's especially important for us to understand the consequences of such info.
I call for a detailed investigation over WoSign's purchase of StartCom and the current status of StartCom. If StartCom is deemed untrusted in connection with WoSign, it should be revoked as well.
I further call for all current users of WoSign or StartCom to switch to Let's Encrypt as soon as possible.
Start Commercial LTD "is" an Israeli Certificate Authority, Their certificates are trusted by billion of devices (computers, mobile phones, routers, etc) and they claim to be "the 6th biggest CA in the world". StartCom launched it's activities as we know it today around 2006 with the brandname StartSSL.
Their site didn't had much UI changes during those years. Until 2016...
February 16th, 2016, Pierre Kim in his security blog wrote about why he stopped using StartSSL. The article was about how some of StartSSL's infrastructure is hosted in China/by Chinese companies. But he showed only small part of the whole picture, not going into who owns StartCom and the brandname StartSSL.
Reviewing StartCom registry in the Israeli company directory reveal that on November 1st, 2015 all the shares of the private held company were transfered to a UK based company named "StartCom CA Limited". This company, "StartCom CA" is owned by Gaohua Wang, who is of Chinese nationality.
But no news about it. 2016 is a major year for StartCom, new UI, new tools and new features, and yet, no news regarding the new ownership. The only news related to the matter was a minor post about expending their activities in China.
In the previous part we saw that the ownership of the company has switched, from Israeli hands to Chinese hands (via a UK based company to operate as a front organization). Pierre Kim in his blog post showed that some of StartSSL infrastructure is hosted in China/by Chinese companies. In this part I will present that currently (June 2016) StartSSL is operating from China (their employees are located in China).
During the first half year of 2016 I've contacted StartSSL several times. The first time was when I notified them about their SPF TXT records being incorrect [1], the reply was originated from (China Telecom, CHINANET Guangdong province network) with the "Content-Language" equals to "zh-cn" and the localtime of the email was UTC+0800. The email is signed with "" private key.
The second time I've contacted StartSSL was in regard their OCSP replies for expired certificates [2], again the reply was originated in China (China Telecom, CHINANET Guangdong province network) with China's localtime (UTC+0800).
The third and last time I've contacted StartSSL was regarding their expired certificates on some of their hosts [3], this time the reply seem to be generated via some kind of a ticket system, but still from China. The ticket system itself (MX server at least) seem to be in China, (21ViaNet(China),Inc), and the person who replied to my email was also from China, (China Telecom, CHINANET Guangdong province network) with "Accept-Language:" set to "zh-cn".
And what about StartSSL automated emails, old ones (during January) seem to originate in China, they came from (China Telecom, CHINANET-BJ) [4]. But later ones, come from (China Telecom (Americas) Corrporation (CTUC)) [5]. According the the whois, this is a Chinese company with an IP infrastructure in the US, but the localtime is still set to China's localtime.
In part 1 I showed that all shares from Start Commercial LTD (company based in Israel) were transferred to a front organization in the UK, named "StartCom CA Limited", which their sole director is Gaohua Wang. In part 2 I showed that StartSSL is actually operating from China (last verified, June 2016). In this part I will disclose who actually owns StartCom and more specifically the "StartSSL" brandname.
The key figure is Gaohua Wang (aka Richard Wang). It may not be so easy to connect him to the company in matter (searching for "Gaohua Wang certificate authority" will do the trick), but Gaohua Wang is also a director of another CA company based in China, named WoSign [1].
StartCom doesn't share this information with their customers, past, present and probably near future. I even tried to ask them directly via their Live Chat, but they haven't given me a straight answer ("not really", "close relationship" and "share infrastructure") [2] [3]. It seem StartCom is trying really hard not to disclose that StartCom was sold indirectly to a Chinese company.
Lets break down the answers to the question "Did WoSign bought you?"
"Not really" - WoSign didn't bought StartCom directly, Gaohua Wang (which also owns WoSign) used a front organization in the UK to buy StartCom.
"Close Relationship" - StartCom in the past cross-signed some of WoSign's intermediate CA, you may consider it as "close relations".
"Share Infrastructure" - This will explain Pierre Kim's post, but it doesn't explain why StartCom will require that, most StartSSL's customers are in Europe and in the US, not in China nor Asia [4].
But there are holes in the story. Why the operations (mail replies, core service like '') is in China? When trying to dial the Israeli number (+972.8.634.4170) I got an unplugged number tone [5], is the office in Israel is unavailable? But some of StartCom infrastructure is still hosted in Israel.
I will conclude with that, the same person (Gaohua Wang) owns WoSign and StartCom. I will leave connecting the dots for you...

[1] Hong Kong Compaies Registry - WoSign Director Index - IMG
[2] Live Chat with Danny - Part 1 - IMG *
[3] Live Chat with Danny - Part 2 - IMG *
[4] According to BuiltWith - IMG
[5] Trying to dial the Israeli extension - AMR
About the author 
My name is Itzhak Daniel, during 2015 I was an employee of StartCom. I don't speak on behalf of StartCom. I believe companies that are responsible for securing our internet should be transparent regarding their activities and who stands behind them.
Comments, requests, etc can be sent using this contact page or by any other means mentioned on it.


  1. You can distrust the certificate. This is usually done by adding certificate to the distrust list, not just deleting it from trusted. That's why it would work even with cross-signature.

    1. You're correct. I think I only distrusted the root WoSign CA not the intermediate WoSign authority signed by StartCom. But anyway, I do not even know StartCom should even be trusted now as it seems to be running by WoSign too.

  2. this is extremely dangerous it should had more tech press cover

  3. Do you have copies of the PDFs? They should be electronically signed documents, so it is theoretically impossible to spoof.

  4. These documents can be downloaded or bought from the official servers (UK and IL).

  5. Why it is such a big deal ? We usualy don't know anything about a lot of companies. If they provide good service we use them, if not we choose another one.

    1. This might be true for a normal company, but not for a trusted CA. A CA can be providing perfect service to its users while completely undermines the trust in the PKI. A CA owe its obligations not only to its users but also the the public.

  6. Hey Percy,

    There are some rumblings that your writings are anti-China or pro-whatever.

    You may want to consider doing a post which collects the lies from Nigg et al around the China "branch office"

    Personally I was shocked at how early (late 2015) people started asking about this, and how blatant the lies were.

    The story here is not about the country, it's about how easily corporate officers are willing to lie about foundational aspects of their business.

    1. First of all, I'm a Chinese. However, I won't be surprised that people are saying I'm anti-China. Cyber Space Administration of China stated that my disclosure on China MITM outlook, iCloud, Google, Yahoo "unsupported speculation, a pure slanderous act by overseas anti-China forces"

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