ssl.com stealing from my credit card, again

This post was written by eli on May 13, 2024
Posted Under: crypto,Internet

Credit card abuse, episode #2

ssl.com presents the lowest price for an EV code signing certificate, however it’s a bit like going into a flea market with a lot of pickpockets around: Pay attention to your wallet, or things happen.

This is a follow-up post to one that I wrote three years ago, after ssl.com suddenly charged my credit card in relation to the eSigner service. It turns out that this a working pattern that persists even three years later. Actually, it was $200 last time, and $747 now, so one could say they’re improving.

The autorenew fraud

Three years ago, I got a EV code signing certificate from ssl.com that expired more or less at the time of writing this. I got a reminder email from ssl.com, urging me to renew this certificate, and indeed, I ordered a one-year certificate so I could continue to sign drivers. I paid for the one-year certificate and went through a brief process of authenticating my identity, and got an approval soon enough.

I’ll say a few words below about the technicalities around getting the certificate, but all in all the process was finished after a few days, and I thought that was the end of it.

And then, I randomly checked my credit card bill and noticed that it had been charged with 747 USD by ssl.com. So I contacted them to figure out what happened. The answer I got was:

{order number} is an auto renewal for the expiring order. But, I do see that you already manually renewed and renewal cert issued.

I can cancel {order number} then credit the amount to your SSL.com account. Would that be good with you?

Indeed, the automatic renewal order was issued after I had completed the process with the new certificate, so surely there was no excuse for an automatic renewal. And the offer to add the funds to my account in ssl.com for future use was of course a joke (even though they were serious about it, of course).

It’s worth mentioning that the reminder email said nothing about what would happen if I didn’t renew the certificate. And surely, there was no hint about any automatic mechanism for a renewal.

On top of that, I got no notification whatsoever about the automatic renewal or that my credit card had been charged. Needless to say, I didn’t approve this renewal. In fact, I made the order for the one-year certificate on a different and temporary credit card, because I learned the lesson from three years ago. Or so I thought.

So I asked them to cancel the order and refund my credit card. Basically, the answer I got was

I have forwarded to the billing team about the refund request. They will email you once they have an update.

Sounds like a fairly happy end, doesn’t it? Only they didn’t cancel the order, let alone refund the credit card. During two weeks I sent three reminders, and the answer was repeatedly that my requests and reminders had been forwarded to “the team”, and that’s where it ended. Who knows, maybe I’ll just forget about it.

I sent the fourth reminder to billing@ssl.com (and not support@ssl.com), so I got some kind of response. I was once again offered to fill up my wallet on ssl.com with the money instead of a refund. To which I responded negatively, of course. In fact, I turned to slightly harsher language, saying that ssl.com’s conduct makes them no better than a street pickpocket.

And interestingly enough, the response was that my refund request “had been approved”. A day later, I got a confirmation that a refund had taken place. The relevant order remained in the ssl.com’s Dashboard as “pending validation”, but at the same time also marked as refunded. And indeed, the refund was visible in my credit card bill the day after that.

So the method is to fetch money silently from the credit card, hoping that I won’t pay attention or won’t bother to do anything about it. Is there another definition for stealing? And I guess this method works fine with companies that have a lot of transactions of this sort with their credit cards. A few hundred dollars can easily slip away.

It appears like the counter-tactic is to use angry and ugly language right away. As long as the request for refund is polite and sounds like a calm person has written it, there’s still hope that the person writing it will give up or maybe forget about it.

And by the way, this post was published after receiving the refund, so unlike last time, it didn’t play a role in getting the issue resolved.

Avoiding unexpected withdrawals

The best way to avoid situations like this is of course to use a credit card with a short life span. This is the kind I used this time, but not three years ago.

Specifically with ssl.com, there are two things to do when ordering a certificate from them:

  • After purchasing, be sure that autorenewal is off. Click the “settings” link on the Dashboard, and uncheck “Automated Certificate Renewal”.
  • Also, delete the credit card details: Click on “deposit funds” on the Dashboard, and delete the credit card details.

Pushing eSigner, again

And now to a more subtle issue.

The approval for my one-year certificate came quickly enough, and it came with two suggestions for continuing: To start off immediately with eSigner, or to order a Yubikey from them with the certificate already loaded on it. The latter option costs $279 (even though it was included for free three years ago). Makes the eSigner option sound attractive, doesn’t it?

They didn’t mention using the Yubikey dongle that I already had and that I used for signing drivers. It was only when I asked about this option that they responded that there’s a procedure for loading a new certificate into the existing dongle.

And so I did, and filled the automatic form on their website, as required for obtaining a Yubikey-based certificate. And waited. And waited. Nothing happened. So I sent a reminder, got apologies for the delay, and finally got the certificate I had ordered.

Was this an innocent mishap, or a deliberate attempt to make me try out eSigner instead? As I’ve already had my fingers burnt with eSigner, no chance I would do that, but I can definitely imagine people losing their patience.

The Yubikey dongle costs $25

You can get your Yubikey dongle from ssl.com at $279, or buy it directly from Yubico at $25. This is the device that I got from ssl.com three years ago, and which I use with the renewed certificate after completing the attestation procedure.

The idea behind this procedure is that the secret key that is used for digital signatures is created inside the dongle, and is never revealed to the computer (or in any other way), so it can’t be stolen. The dongle generates a certificate (the “attestation certificate”) ensuring that the public key and secret key pair was indeed created this way, and is therefore safe. This certificate is signed with Yubico’s secret key, which is also present inside the dongle.

So the procedure consists of creating the key pair, obtaining the attestation certificate from the dongle and sending it to ssl.com by filling in a web form. They generate a certificate for signing code (or whatever is needed) in response.

So if you’re about to obtain your first certificate from ssl.com, I suggest checking up the option to purchase the Yubikey separately from Yubico. They have no reason to refuse from a security point of view, because the attestation certificate ensures that the cryptographic key is safe inside the dongle.

Summary

Exactly like three years ago, it seems like ssl.com uses fraudulent methods along with dirty tactics to cover up for their relatively low prices. So if you want to work with this company, be sure to keep a close eye on your credit card bill, and be ready for lengthy delays when requesting something that apparently goes against their interests. Plus misleading messages.

Also, be ready for a long exchange of emails with their support and billing department. It’s probably best to escalate to rude and aggressive language pretty soon, as their support team is probably instructed not to be cooperative as long as the person complaining appears to be calm.

And this comes from a company whose core business is generating trust.

Reader Comments

The YUBIKEY to which you linked doesn’t support FIPS 140-2. From the documentation it seems the more expensive model 5 FIPS would be required.

#1 
Written By Jazzwhistle m on May 14th, 2024 @ 22:53

Frankly speaking, I don’t remember how I identified my Yubikey dongle, but I’m quite positive it’s what I linked at. Not that it really matters: Either way, if someone wants to buy the dongle separately, it’s necessary to check with ssl.com in advance.

#2 
Written By eli on May 14th, 2024 @ 23:08

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