Security vulnerability in Geary: Invalid server certificates accepted silently

Geary is a nice looking mail client for Linux / Gnome users.

We identified a vulnerability in Geary during some recent testing related to Subgraph OS, Mail and Nyms. Thankfully the maintainer responded to our report really quickly and there has already been a patch committed and backported. There are updated tarballs on the Geary homepage and hopefully distro upgrades will be available soon.

Here are the details on CVE-2014-5444:

When Geary connects to any server endpoint over SSL/TLS (IMAPS, SMTPS, IMAP + STARTTLS, SMTP + STARTTLS), it doesn’t act on certificate validation errors, which are detected but ignored. Further, the user is not even made aware when certificate validation fails except when Geary is run with optional debug output via the -d command-line switch.

In all validation failure cases the user credentials are transmitted to the server. This creates an effective attack to harvest user email passwords through active interception.

Geary is fairly identifiable on the wire, meaning that an adversary in a position to perform the attack can do so selectively, reducing the likelihood of detection if another, non-vulnerable mail client is intercepted.

One way to fingerprint Geary is to observe the IMAP IDLE refresh frequency, which occurs every 30 seconds. This is unusually short compared to the maximum IDLE limit of 30 minutes and the default behavior of other clients (Evolution: 10 minutes, Thunderbird: 10 minutes, Claws Mail: 5 minutes).

If exploited, an interception attack would not be perceptible to most users.

Here’s the problematic code, take note of the TODO in engine/api/geary-endpoint.vala:

private bool report_tls_warnings(string cx_type, TlsCertificateFlags warnings) {

// TODO: Report or verify flags with user, but for now merely
log for informational/debugging
// reasons and accede
message("%s TLS warnings connecting to %s: %Xh (%s)", cx_type,
to_string(), warnings, tls_flags_to_string(warnings));

return true;

It turns out that this is not an issue unknown to the developers, there is an open ticket that goes as far back as 2012. Our report prompted them to prioritize a fix. Big thank you to Geary developer Jim Nelson for acknowledging that this is a serious vulnerability for Geary users, some of whom are exposed to a high risk of active network interference.