The Common Criteria for Information Technology Security Evaluation (referred to as Common Criteria or CC) is an international standard (ISO/IEC 15408) for computer security certification. It is currently in version 3.1 revision 5.
Common Criteria is a framework in which computer system users can specify their security functional and assurance requirements (SFRs and SARs respectively) in a Security Target (ST), and may be taken from Protection Profiles (PPs). Vendors can then implement or make claims about the security attributes of their products, and testing laboratories can evaluate the products to determine if they actually meet the claims. In other words, Common Criteria provides assurance that the process of specification, implementation and evaluation of a computer security product has been conducted in a rigorous and standard and repeatable manner at a level that is commensurate with the target environment for use. Common Criteria maintains a list of certified products, including operating systems, access control systems, databases, and key management systems.
Common Criteria evaluations are performed on computer security products and systems.
The evaluation process also tries to establish the level of confidence that may be placed in the product's security features through quality assurance processes:
So far, most PPs and most evaluated STs/certified products have been for IT components (e.g., firewalls, operating systems, smart cards). Common Criteria certification is sometimes specified for IT procurement. Other standards containing, e.g., interoperation, system management, user training, supplement CC and other product standards. Examples include the ISO/IEC 27002 and the German IT baseline protection.
Details of cryptographic implementation within the TOE are outside the scope of the CC. Instead, national standards, like FIPS 140-2, give the specifications for cryptographic modules, and various standards specify the cryptographic algorithms in use.
More recently, PP authors are including cryptographic requirements for CC evaluations that would typically be covered by FIPS 140-2 evaluations, broadening the bounds of the CC through scheme-specific interpretations.
Some national evaluation schemes are phasing out EAL-based evaluations and only accept products for evaluation that claim strict conformance with an approved PP. The United States currently only allows PP-based evaluations. Canada is in the process of phasing out EAL-based evaluations.
CC originated out of three standards:
CC was produced by unifying these pre-existing standards, predominantly so that companies selling computer products for the government market (mainly for Defence or Intelligence use) would only need to have them evaluated against one set of standards. The CC was developed by the governments of Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and the U.S.
All testing laboratories must comply with ISO/IEC 17025, and certification bodies will normally be approved against ISO/IEC 17065.
The compliance with ISO/IEC 17025 is typically demonstrated to a National approval authority:
Characteristics of these organizations were examined and presented at ICCC 10.
As well as the Common Criteria standard, there is also a sub-treaty level Common Criteria MRA (Mutual Recognition Arrangement), whereby each party thereto recognizes evaluations against the Common Criteria standard done by other parties. Originally signed in 1998 by Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, Australia and New Zealand joined 1999, followed by Finland, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain in 2000. The Arrangement has since been renamed Common Criteria Recognition Arrangement (CCRA) and membership continues to expand. Within the CCRA only evaluations up to EAL 2 are mutually recognized (Including augmentation with flaw remediation). The European countries within the former ITSEC agreement typically recognize higher EALs as well. Evaluations at EAL5 and above tend to involve the security requirements of the host nation's government.
In September 2012, a majority of members of the CCRA produced a vision statement whereby mutual recognition of CC evaluated products will be lowered to EAL 2 (Including augmentation with flaw remediation). Further, this vision indicates a move away from assurance levels altogether and evaluations will be confined to conformance with Protection Profiles that have no stated assurance level. This will be achieved through technical working groups developing worldwide PPs, and as yet a transition period has not been fully determined.
On July 2, 2014, a new CCRA was ratified per the goals outlined within the 2012 vision statement. Major changes to the Arrangement include:
Common Criteria is very generic; it does not directly provide a list of product security requirements or features for specific (classes of) products: this follows the approach taken by ITSEC, but has been a source of debate to those used to the more prescriptive approach of other earlier standards such as TCSEC and FIPS 140-2.
Common Criteria certification cannot guarantee security, but it can ensure that claims about the security attributes of the evaluated product were independently verified. In other words, products evaluated against a Common Criteria standard exhibit a clear chain of evidence that the process of specification, implementation, and evaluation has been conducted in a rigorous and standard manner.
Various Microsoft Windows versions, including Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP, have been certified, but security patches to address security vulnerabilities are still getting published by Microsoft for these Windows systems. This is possible because the process of obtaining a Common Criteria certification allows a vendor to restrict the analysis to certain security features and to make certain assumptions about the operating environment and the strength of threats faced by the product in that environment. Additionally, the CC recognizes a need to limit the scope of evaluation in order to provide cost-effective and useful security certifications, such that evaluated products are examined to a level of detail specified by the assurance level or PP. Evaluations activities are therefore only performed to a certain depth, use of time, and resources and offer reasonable assurance for the intended environment.
In the Microsoft case, the assumptions include A.PEER:
"Any other systems with which the TOE communicates are assumed to be under the same management control and operate under the same security policy constraints. The TOE is applicable to networked or distributed environments only if the entire network operates under the same constraints and resides within a single management domain. There are no security requirements that address the need to trust external systems or the communications links to such systems."
This assumption is contained in the Controlled Access Protection Profile (CAPP) to which their products adhere. Based on this and other assumptions, which may not be realistic for the common use of general-purpose operating systems, the claimed security functions of the Windows products are evaluated. Thus they should only be considered secure in the assumed, specified circumstances, also known as the evaluated configuration.
Whether you run Microsoft Windows in the precise evaluated configuration or not, you should apply Microsoft's security patches for the vulnerabilities in Windows as they continue to appear. If any of these security vulnerabilities are exploitable in the product's evaluated configuration, the product's Common Criteria certification should be voluntarily withdrawn by the vendor. Alternatively, the vendor should re-evaluate the product to include the application of patches to fix the security vulnerabilities within the evaluated configuration. Failure by the vendor to take either of these steps would result in involuntary withdrawal of the product's certification by the certification body of the country in which the product was evaluated.
The certified Microsoft Windows versions remain at EAL4+ without including the application of any Microsoft security vulnerability patches in their evaluated configuration. This shows both the limitation and strength of an evaluated configuration.
In August 2007, Government Computing News (GCN) columnist William Jackson critically examined Common Criteria methodology and its US implementation by the Common Criteria Evaluation and Validation Scheme (CCEVS). In the column executives from the security industry, researchers, and representatives from the National Information Assurance Partnership (NIAP) were interviewed. Objections outlined in the article include:
In a 2006 research paper, computer specialist David A. Wheeler suggested that the Common Criteria process discriminates against free and open-source software (FOSS)-centric organizations and development models. Common Criteria assurance requirements tend to be inspired by the traditional waterfall software development methodology. In contrast, much FOSS software is produced using modern agile paradigms. Although some have argued that both paradigms do not align well, others have attempted to reconcile both paradigms. Political scientist Jan Kallberg raised concerns over the lack of control over the actual production of the products once they are certified, the absence of a permanently staffed organizational body that monitors compliance, and the idea that the trust in the Common Criteria IT-security certifications will be maintained across geopolitical boundaries.
In 2017, the ROCA vulnerability was found in a list of Common Criteria certified smart card products. The vulnerability highlighted several shortcomings of Common Criteria certification scheme:
Throughout the lifetime of CC, it has not been universally adopted even by the creator nations, with, in particular, cryptographic approvals being handled separately, such as by the Canadian / US implementation of FIPS-140, and the CESG Assisted Products Scheme (CAPS) in the UK.
The UK has also produced a number of alternative schemes when the timescales, costs and overheads of mutual recognition have been found to be impeding the operation of the market:
In early 2011, NSA/CSS published a paper by Chris Salter, which proposed a Protection Profile oriented approach towards evaluation. In this approach, communities of interest form around technology types which in turn develop protection profiles that define the evaluation methodology for the technology type. The objective is a more robust evaluation. There is some concern that this may have a negative impact on mutual recognition.
In Sept of 2012, the Common Criteria published a Vision Statement implementing to a large extent Chris Salter's thoughts from the previous year. Key elements of the Vision included: