Feeds

Security patch distribution – it's trojan time

Crackers could turn cure into disease

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The essential guide to IT transformation

The way operating system vendors issue security patches is insecure, in many cases, and could let crackers exploit this to trick users into loading trojan horses onto their systems.

Security firm BindView, whose Razor team of security researchers completed the research, questioned 27 different vendors of commonly used products on whether patches are accompanied by digital signatures or other forms of cryptographic authentication. Its findings, available in full here, are a real eye-opener because they highlight glaring security gaps, not least that a minority of vendors, including Apple and Compaq, provide no authentication for their patches.

"A number of the vendors (including some Fortune 500 companies) do not offer patch authentication via any cryptographic method. This can make it very difficult for customers to verify that they have obtained a correct patch rather than a trojan horse," said Matt Power, of BindView's Razor security team.

"A trojan-horse patch might be stored on the vendor's server if that server were compromised by intruders," he added, a risk that has to be taken more seriously given the recent hack of Microsoft's network, and the defacement of web sites of security vendor Network Associates.

Power added that even if a vendor's server is not compromised, well-known weaknesses in Internet protocols can be exploited to deliver a trojan-horse patch to users.

Interestingly the research threw up an admission by Microsoft's Security Response Center that "no more than several thousand people have downloaded our PGP key". This means that only a very small number of users are checking the authenticity of bulletins.

Richard Stagg, senior security architect at Information Risk Management, said getting people to install trojan horses through deceiving people into believing they were security updates was "a standard hacking technique" which was "an extension of social engineering".

Attacks based on subverting security patches were not common, because they are difficult to arrange, but could potentially be "very bad" and extend into the inclusion of trojan horses into software available on CD-ROMs.

"Vendors have a duty to provide security patches, a pre-requisite to which is that there must be a straightforward method to validate the content. Its naive for vendors to expects users to automatically check patches," said Stagg.

"If it takes time to verify patches the instinct of most people will be to just grab a file and install it," he added. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
BBC: We're going to slip CODING into kids' TV
Pureed-carrot-in-ice cream C++ surprise
China: You, Microsoft. Office-Windows 'compatibility'. You have 20 days to explain
Told to cough up more details as antitrust probe goes deeper
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Windows 7 settles as Windows XP use finally starts to slip … a bit
And at the back of the field, Windows 8.1 is sprinting away from Windows 8
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?