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The IT Detective Agency: Internet Explorer cannot display https web page

It’s a weird thing when a site that’s always worked for you suddenly stops working. Such was the behaviour observed today by a friend of mine. He could no longer access an old Oracle Enterprise Manger web site, and just this one web site. All other web sites were fine. What’s up, he asked?

The details
Well we tried this and that, reloading pages, re-starting the PC, and tests to make sure the DNS resolution was occurring correctly. It was. We logged on to his PC as another user to try the access. This tests registry settings specific to his userid. I thought that would work, but it did not. I tried the web site from my PC – worked great! The people around him also worked great. Give up? Never. For him the error page popped up quickly, by the way. He didn’t have Firefox, but I was tempted to have him install it and try that. I was pretty sure it would have worked.

He did have putty. We used his putty to telnet access the server on the same port as the https listener – we could connect, though of course we couldn’t really do anything beyond that. So there was no firewall-type issue.

We tried other https sites from his browser – no problems with those.

I was hemming and hawing and muttering something about publisher certificate revocation when that prompted someone to recall that a related Microsoft setting adjustment had come out just last week. It requires that web sites have certificate lengths of at least 1024 bits. For discussion see this article. Could that be related to this problem he asks me? Could it? Could it? I quickly checked the key bit length of the server certificate on the OEM server. Yup. 512 bits. Then I checked the key length of another OEM server that he could still access. Yup. 1024 bits. It was a newer installation so that actually does make sense. This popular article about ciphers also mentions how to use openssl to find the key length (openssl s_client …).

Why could I and others do the access? Simple. We hadn’t (yet) received the patch. When we do, we won’t be able to access it either.

So whose fault is it, anyways? I kind of agree with Microsoft on this one. If you’re still running web sites with 512 bit-length keys, it’s time to change your certificates to something longer and more secure. After all on the Internet we’re required to have 2048 bit-length keys for almost two years now.

Problem is, it’s not so obvious how to change this key in OEM. It may be buried in a java keystore.

Case: almost closed!

With a little help from my friends I solved the case of the browser with the message Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage. Like all such problems it was quite puzzling for awhile, but once understood all the symptoms made sense and could be explained rationally.

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