Mozilla is being accused of creating undue fear and confusion for everyday web surfers, due to the new security feature in Firefox 3.0 that throws out a warning page when a website's SSL certificate is expired or has not been issued by a trusted third party.
Critics say that Firefox 3.0 makes it difficult to set exceptions for certain websites, and is forcing website operators to do business with specific vendors of SSL certificates or risk the appearance that their websites are broken.
Browsers require SSL certificates to initiate encrypted communications and to validate the authenticity of a site. The Mozilla.com website, where Firefox 3.0 can be freely downloaded, defends the new feature, saying SSL certificates not issued by a validated certificate authority - so-called self-signed certificates (SSC) - don't provide even basic validation; and expired certificates should not be viewed as "harmless" because they open avenues for hackers.
Mozilla officials say the new feature helps curb electronic eavesdropping or so-called "man in the middle" attacks.
The certificate issue is cropping up on such major sites as the US Army's, which uses certificates issued by the Department of Defense. In the Army's case, Firefox does not recognize the DOD as an authorised certificate provider. Firefox, therefore, rejects the Army site's certificate and defaults to a web page showing a traffic-cop icon and proclaiming "secure connection failed" and that the site's certificate cannot be trusted.
The problem also has surfaced with expired SSL certificates on such sites as Google Checkout and LinkedIn. The issue also could crop up on intranet sites that use SSCs and force IT administrators to configure exceptions within the browser or other workarounds.
Some are saying that Firefox 3.0 is out of line.