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MS Outlook digital sigs easily forged

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Digital signatures can easily be forged and therefore can't be trusted in Outlook because of the same certificate chaining issue plaguing Internet Explorer, researcher Mike Benham says.

Benham is responsible for discovering and publicizing the IE debacle, where SSL certs can be signed by an untrusted intermediary without warning to the end user, as we reported earlier.

Now after a bit of further tinkering it appears that the same design flaw can be used against Outlook users. Briefly, an attacker would sign an untrusted cert with a trusted, intermediate one. Of course, just because the cert doing the signing is trusted, that's no reason why its offspring should be. Unfortunately, neither IE nor Outlook check basic constraints, and for this reason the end user is never warned that the certificate chain is questionable.

Meanwhile, Benham has obtained a valid certificate and key with which these two issues can be verified. The goodies are now bundled in the latest version of SSLsniff.

"As it stands, there is virtually no difference between signed and unsigned email in Outlook. Unless carefully inspected, signed email in Outlook is essentially meaningless. This also applies to any signed email received over the past 5+ years," Benham says.

Now all we've got left to worry about is a similar exploit involving code-signing certificates.

For step-by-step breakdown on the misuse of digital certs against Outlook users, see Benham's latest BugTraq post. He recommends sending Billg a spoofed, digitally signed e-mail from himself to illustrate the danger. ®

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