Flame Malware Signed By 'Rogue' Microsoft Cert, Once Again Highlights Problems With Relying On Certs

from the time-to-move-forward dept

We’ve discussed in the past just how dangerous our reliance on Certificate Authorities “signing” security certificates has become. This is a key part of the way we handle security online, and yet it’s clearly subject to abuse. The latest such example: the now infamous Flame malware that targeted computer systems in the Middle East was signed by a “rogue” Microsoft certificate — one which was supposed to be used for allowing employees to log into a remote system. Microsoft rushed out a security update over the weekend, but that doesn’t change the core problem: the whole setup of relying so heavily on secure certificates seems to be increasingly dangerous.

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Companies: microsoft

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Comments on “Flame Malware Signed By 'Rogue' Microsoft Cert, Once Again Highlights Problems With Relying On Certs”

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Doug says:

FUD? Agreed.

Certs aren’t perfect. They’re tricky and unforgiving. But most of the time they work. They’re tricky and unforgiving because they are expected to do a very specific job quickly and in a very hostile environment.

Every once in a while, somebody screws up and an attacker is able to slip in, but the problem is corrected (usually quickly). In other words, the system is working as expected. Nobody promised perfection, and the certificate system is still the best solution anybody has found so far.

Do you have a better solution that you would be willing to share with the rest of the world? (I’ve heard a few alternatives presented, but they haven’t been accepted by the general security industry because they are even easier to screw up than the existing system.)

monkyyy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

false, u dont build a fence around a jail with “gates” everywhere that a unlocked all the time until a poisoner escapes though each and every huge flaw w/ the system

the plan to EVER need to patch is a failed way to secure computers, just because its the norm doesnt make it correct
the reason u see it happen on windows is they trade security for “user friendliness”(mac are even worse)

Mike Masnick (profile) says:


Do you have a better solution that you would be willing to share with the rest of the world? (I’ve heard a few alternatives presented, but they haven’t been accepted by the general security industry because they are even easier to screw up than the existing system.)

Er… DNSSEC will go a long way towards decreasing our reliance on cert authorities…

Wally says:

Screw IE

It has been no secret that Microsft Internet Explorer is still the most lousy web browser as far as security is concerned. I know nothing of security certificates, but I know they are rather important. All I know is I avoid using IE like the plague. I once had a mobile (Thumbdrive) version of FireFox just so I would have an alternative at college. FireFox, Chrome and Opera are far better at verifying rogue certificates. FireFox is the best at it, Chrome a close second.
There are three things to keep your computer secured.
1: use a wireless router as your physical firewall. Use Microsoft’s DEP and Built in Firewall. Vista Users have the added bonus of User Account Control being on by default….which identifies whether or not you were the one who just double clicked on the link to a program.

2. The best Malware/Antivirus Software is currently available for free. Microsoft Security Essentials will pick up viruses on virtual hard disks made by my Macintosh emulator. It treats all VMware hard disks as a volume. You can set the amount of CPU power consumption by it running in the background to 10%.

3. To clear your browser cache and to have a registry error check and fix, CCleaner works very well.

After all this, just avoid using Internet Explorer altogether.

Anonymous Coward says:


No system is perfect. I think one of the biggest problems is that we place too much trust in these authorities to the point where we get a false sense of security and when that happens we are actually less secure because we are less actively scrutinizing our security and we are less aware of any vulnerabilities, threats, and potential problems.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:


You can’t have certificates without some sort of authority. The entire infrastructure relies on trust of some hierarchy, somewhere.

I never said we needed to DO AWAY with the CAs, but we need to become less reliant on them — and DNSSEC certainly helps on that front. I’m not arguing that it’s terrible and needs to be dumped completely, so don’t put words in my mouth.

I’m just saying we’re currently overly reliant on the CAs today.

Anonymous Coward says:


From MS SA blog:
“Terminal Server Licensing Service no longer issues certificates that allow code to be signed”

There’s no use for that. Any attacker can still install an unpatched version of server to generate such certificate and sign the code. What Microsoft should do instead is to revoke that intermediate CA certificate.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually it’s pretty clear he says we need to diversify our security measures to the point that if one fails we are not completely exposed. And he’s 100% right. DNSSEC is one step to make things more secure. And if you are not just an annoying shill you’ll actually admit that Mike is not an IT expert to develop a new solution to the problem. However, problems need to be addressed at some point. And to be addressed some1 has to rise awareness of it. Mike is reporting and providing evidence that the problem needs to be addressed (as he later showed that it is happening in the comments).

It’s only FUD if you are too ignorant to understand what’s happening. I see a problem with security certificates and I’m not panicking. I also see huge problems with our current financial system. And I’m not panicking. Neither should you.

Some Other AC (profile) says:

Screw IE

While I agree with most of your post, there are occasions where for whatever reason, a Web application is coded to only work properly with a specific Browser version. This can be based on a number of factors, so I will not attempt to debate them all. As for the reference to Vista, Windows 7 also has the UAC enabled by default in most systems. Believe me, as a former internal IT staff member where I work, the number of complaints about the manner of notification with UAC in Win7 by default was huge.
Best bet for increasing overall security on Systems, regardless of OS version used, is Education and multiple layers of security. Anti-virus programs(updated regularly), Firewalls(both Software and Hardware based), regular updating of OS and applications, and a good dose of basic education will lead to a more secure computing environment for most people who don’t have access to Enterprise levels of cash to spend on expensive options.

Anonymous Coward says:


DNSSEC is only complimentary to a secure connection between a host and client as it only verifies that the host is correct from the authoritative name server. Encryption between the host and client is still necessary. With an incident like DNSChanger or a poisoned caching server, you could still be lead to a false server with a false certificate and become compromised.
The only solution that I recommend is simply running your own caching server, and setting up monitoring of DNS records to alert you of any changes. This however doesn’t scale very well outside of an office/home environment, and takes some technical skill on the part of the end user.

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