Ongoing issue with Firefox add-ons due to an expired certificate

Note: This is an ongoing issue at the time of writing (19:30 2019-05-04 JST). The team at Mozilla is aware of this issue and is working hard to fix it as soon as they can. You can track the bug here and on the IRC channel #firefox on


The issue started around 6 pm PST on the 4th of May when some people noticed that their add-ons were disabled by the browser, though the add-ons were working just fine just a few hours ago. (Some people had theirs stop working during on ongoing session!) This led to the opening of a GitHub issue and a bug on Mozilla’s bug tracker for Firefox, Bugzilla.

I ran into this as soon as I woke up this morning and opened my work computer to start my on-call shift. I didn’t know I had a pretty interesting on-call session in front of me. On a 12-hour on-call shift, I didn’t have much to do anyway. So, I ran through what the issue was, how it started happening, and what people are saying about it.

Sidenote: I set up IRSSI because it felt like a lot of the discussion was happening on IRC and not on GitHub or bugzilla (mainly because the developers inside Mozilla locked the GitHub issues and restricted who could comment to keep those channels clear; as more and more people started to figure out that what they were running into didn’t have an easy fix, these pages would only have started getting more polluted and the main problem would have become harder to find)

IRC was filled with a bunch of people who were talking about where the issue started and why it was allowed to happen. One of the most common threads of conversation was: “This feels like we are using a product built inside a walled garden”. Firefox devs continued to tell the world that they knew about the problem and were working hard to fix it but what this fix was and how they were approaching it was not clear to anyone on IRC.

As for the issue itself, one look at the title clarified what it was:

All extensions disabled due to expiration of intermediate signing cert

Let’s delve into what exactly this means!

Mozilla Add-on signing

Mozilla has a great wiki on how they sign add-ons. The add-on submission process goes like this:

  1. Developer submits a plaintext XPI to Mozilla Addons
  2. Mozilla analyzes this XPI for security vulnerabilities
  3. When approved, Mozilla signs this package
    1. Mozilla has a root CA certificate that’s shipped with the browser (R)
    2. Mozilla has an intermediate certificate that’s used for add-on signing (I)
    3. Mozilla derives a new certificate from this intermediate certificate - the end-point entity certificate (E)
    4. Mozilla signs a file with cert E
    5. The package is shipped with this signature (from cert E), the cert E, and the cert I.
  4. After downloading an add-on, the Browser verifies this signature:
    1. Verifies that the signature was made by cert E
    2. Verifies that the cert E has a valid chain back to the root cert
    3. Verifies that the files match what was signed (using a bunch of hashes)

Our current problem: The intermediate certificate, cert I, has expired!

Now, the certificate itself is available in every single add-on, and can be inspected. So, that’s exactly what I did.

The Certificates

To get a certificate, you must get an add-on package; I chose uBlock because that was the first thing I noticed when I was looking for one.

  1. Get the XPI for any add-on
  2. Unzip this xpi file using unzip -d extension
  3. The signature is inside the file META-INF/mozilla.rsa
  4. Use openssl to inspect the certificates!
openssl pkcs7 -in META-INF/mozilla.rsa -inform DER -print_certs -text

You can find the output of this for the uBlock extension here.

These lines inside the intermediate certificate (second certificate in the certificate chain are the culprit of the present issue):

    Version: 3 (0x2)
    Serial Number: 1048580 (0x100004)
Signature Algorithm: sha384WithRSAEncryption
    Issuer: C=US, O=Mozilla Corporation, OU=Mozilla AMO Production Signing Service, CN=root-ca-production-amo
        Not Before: May  4 00:09:46 2017 GMT
        Not After : May  4 00:09:46 2019 GMT
    Subject: C=US, O=Mozilla Corporation, OU=Mozilla AMO Production Signing Service,[email protected]

The validity of the intermediate certificate ended today. The actual expiry was about 1 hour ago, but this issue has been on going for nearly 9 hours now, so I don’t know what that is about. Hopefully, we get a post mortem from Mozilla once the issue is fixed and we can all find out exactly what the issue was!

The Solution

I haven’t worked with CA and certificate systems for quite a while now. But as far as I can tell, this is the solution that comes to mind:

  1. Issue a new intermediate certificate
  2. Re-generate and re-sign all add-on packages
  3. Upload these new add-on packages with the signature to AMO
  4. Get everyone to download the extensions again OR release a special patch to the browser which downloads the add-ons again for you.

Interestingly, Mozilla was able to release a work-around for people who didn’t have their add-ons disabled. They said they did that here. One of these users was on IRC and they shared their certificates for the uMatrix extension here. These still expire at the same time. So, Mozilla was able to find some sort of quick workaround which helped them make browsers ignore the results of the add-on verification test.

Edit: I was enlightened by a user on IRC that the fix they deployed was a Study. These can be seen inside about:studies and this particular hotfix is called hotfix-reset-xpi-verification-timestamp-1548973! Nifty!

P.S. I wrote a post a few months ago about how cool openssl is! I was finally able to use it in the wild with this issue! Check out the post here.