Learning From Lenovo's Compounded Failures, Dell Apologizes For Its Own HTTPS Certificate Screw Up
from the yeah,-whoops dept
Dell this week found itself under fire for embedding a certificate in some PCs that makes it relatively easy for attackers to cryptographically impersonate HTTPS-protected websites. First discovered by a programmer named Joe Nord, Dell’s eDellRoot certificate appears to have been preinstalled as a root certificate on several Dell laptop and desktop models. As Nord notes, it’s relatively simple to extract the locally-stored key, sign fraudulent TLS certificates for any HTTPS-protected website on the Internet, and trick user browsers to accept these encrypted Web sessions with no security warnings whatsoever.
“This highlights a disturbing trend among original equipment manufacturer (OEM) hardware vendors. Tampering with certificate stores exposes users to unnecessary, increased risk. Tampering with the certificate store is a questionable practice, and OEM?s need to be careful when adding new trusted certificates, especially root certificates. Sadly, OEM manufacturers seem to not be learning from historical mistakes and keep making them over and over.”
However Dell did appear to learn something in terms of their PR response to the vulnerability. Unlike Lenovo, which originally tried to deny any security problem whatsoever, Dell has issued a relatively straight forward blog post addressing the issue. In it, Dell does something downright kooky: it admits that the vulnerability is a vulnerability, and publicly thanks the security researchers that discovered it. According to Dell, the certificate was implemented as part of a support tool “intended to make it faster and easier” for users to service their system.
Dell’s quick to remind readers that at least it wasn’t adware, and unlike Lenovo’s snoopvertising, it won’t stealthily hide in the BiOS to reinstall itself at a later date:
“The certificate is not malware or adware. Rather, it was intended to provide the system service tag to Dell online support allowing us to quickly identify the computer model, making it easier and faster to service our customers. This certificate is not being used to collect personal customer information. It?s also important to note that the certificate will not reinstall itself once it is properly removed using the recommended Dell process.”
Dell’s also posted a word document outlining how to spot and remove the certificate here for those interested. It remains unclear just how many computers are at risk, but given that Dell is expected to ship 10 million computers worldwide in the third quarter of 2015, the footprint likely isn’t modest. And while Dell managed the problem better on the PR front than their predecessors, the fact that this keeps happening is no less disturbing.