The Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) is an alternative method to Certificate Revocation Lists (CRLs) for obtaining the revocation status of an individual SSL certificate. Fast and reliable OCSP responders are essential for both Certificate Authorities (CAs) and their customers — a slow OCSP response will introduce an additional delay before many browsers can start sending and receiving encrypted traffic over an HTTPS connection.
Starfield Technologies, a Go Daddy brand, had the most reliable OCSP responder last month with only a single failed request and an average connection time of 24ms. Starfield Technologies was founded in 2003 as the technology research branch of Go Daddy. Go Daddy customers have the option to choose which issuing organization to use when buying an SSL certificate. Although both Go Daddy and Starfield appear to share the same OCSP responder infrastructure, ocsp.godaddy.com had five failed requests, however this was still fewer than StartCom, Symantec, and Trend Micro. Both Go Daddy and Starfield issue certificates in all three certificate assurance categories: Domain Validation (DV), Organisation Validation (OV), and Extended Validation (EV). Starfield is most prominent in the EV sector — more than 15% of all EV certificates issued within the group are issued by Starfield — but it remains only a small part of Go Daddy’s SSL certificate business: Starfield accounts for just 10% of certificates issued.
StartCom had the shortest average connect time (11ms) of all monitored CAs last month after having moved its OCSP infrastructure at the end of February. StartCom, as well as Entrust, now delivers its OCSP responses via the Akamai CDN (Content Delivery Network), reducing the OCSP connection overhead to a minimum by serving content from as topologically close as possible to the client. GlobalSign is a CloudFlare evangelist, using CloudFlare’s CDN platform for its OCSP and CRL infrastructure as well as their own corporate website.
Many of the monitored OCSP responders are served by Citrix Netscaler devices. Citrix Netscaler is a hardware appliance that provides, amongst other features, load balancing and firewall functions. The use of such load balancing technology is no surprise — a single certificate on a popular site that does not use OCSP stapling could generate a significant number of OCSP requests, causing a CA’s responder to experience high volumes of traffic.
In many circumstances each connection to an HTTPS site could trigger multiple OCSP requests: a request for the server’s certificate and one for each intermediate certificate. OCSP responses are typically valid for a week, so some caching is possible. Caching can reduce both the burden on OCSP responders and increase the perceived performance of HTTPS websites to users, but is limited to repeat visits. OCSP Stapling is designed to improve performance by allowing the web site’s server to “staple” the OCSP response to the TLS handshake, removing the need for the client to connect to the CA’s OCSP responder.
Netcraft measures and makes available the OCSP and CRL end point response times of all the major Certificate Authorities (CAs). The performance measurements are made at fifteen minute intervals from separate points around the internet, and averages are calculated over the immediately preceding 24 hour period.