A new analysis highlights the prevalence of malware signed by certificate authorities and the problems with trust-based security.
Researchers with Chronicle, the cybersecurity company and Alphabet subsidiary, today published an analysis of its investigation into the trend of signed malware being exploited in the wild.
The process of cryptographically signing code was created to give the Windows operating system a means to distinguish good code from bad. Certificates are signed/issued by trusted certificate authorities (CAs), backed by a trusted parent CA. The purpose behind signing a Windows executable file was to mark the authenticity of code published on the Internet.
The problem is, this system is based on trust, and cybercriminals are taking advantage of it.
Malware authors buy these certificates, directly or through resellers. While a CA can revoke a certificate deemed untrustworthy — and more of them are — this remains the only way to cut down on abuse. The process creates a window during which malware has a trusted certificate.
To highlight the prevalence of this trend and problems with trust-based security, Chronicle researchers used VirusTotal, an online virus/malware scanner that analyzes suspicious files that a machine’s antivirus tools may have missed. They limited this project to Windows PE Executable files, filtered out samples with fewer than 15 aggregate detections, and “aggressively” filtered out grayware files to determine the number of malware samples each CA was responsible for signing. When all was said and filtered, the researchers ended up with a total of 3,815 malware samples.
CAs that signed certificates of 100+ malware samples accounted for nearly 78% of signed malware uploaded to VirusTotal, Chronicle reports. Interestingly, there is a significant drop between CAs when considering malware samples signed. For example, COMODO RSA Code Signing CA, which has the most samples at 1,775, has almost 3.5 times the amount of Thawte SHA256 Code …
Author: Kelly Sheridan Staff Editor, Dark Reading