Given the alarming rise in software supply chain attacks and consumers growing more cyber-aware and security-conscious, software providers need to demonstrate a stronger commitment to securing their software and applications and fostering user confidence and trust. One of the vital security measures taken in this direction is the use of code signing certificates to prove software authenticity, integrity and security.
Understanding Code Signing Certificates
Code signing certificates, used for digitally signing applications and software, are an integral part of the secure software development process. These certificates help identify and authenticate a software provider or publisher to the end users and consumers. Software appended with a digital signature from a code signing certificate indicates that the code has not been altered or tampered with since it was signed. Users can trust that the software comes from a legitimate source, and, therefore, is safe to use. In addition to promoting user trust, code signing helps strengthen software supply chain security, ensure compliance, and build brand reputation.
While code signing is an essential and effective security practice, its effectiveness hinges on proper management of code signing certificates and keys. Typically, the responsibility of storing and managing code signing certificates falls upon DevOps teams. However, as developers are hyper-focused on the rapid and agile pace of software development and delivery, securely managing code signing keys and certificates is often an afterthought. As a result, private keys and code signing certificates often end up stored insecurely on local machines and build servers. On the other hand, security teams hardly have any visibility into or control over code signing keys and certificates, making it difficult for them to prevent vulnerabilities or ensure compliance.
Mismanaged code signing certificates and keys can lead to certificate expiry and compromises that can often go undetected for a long time, posing significant risks to the security and integrity of software. Here are some common risks associated with expired and compromised code signing certificates.
Risks of Expired Code Signing Certificates
- Inability to Sign Code: Once a code signing certificate expires, it can no longer be used to sign code. Developers will not be able to release updated or new versions of their software with the expired certificate, slowing development cycles, causing downtime and impacting delivery.
- User Trust Issues: End-users and systems rely on code signing certificates to verify the authenticity and integrity of software. If a code signing certificate used to signcode expires and timestamping is not applied , the digital signature will expire and the software will then raise warnings. This will discourage users from running the software altogether or trusting future releases. Reduced user trust significantly impacts brand reputation.
- Security Risks: Expired certificates can lead to software distribution delays as developers must obtain and configure new certificates. In the meantime, end users might get exposed to security risks since they may not receive timely updates with the necessary security fixes.
- Auditing and Compliance Concerns: Expired certificates can cause auditing and compliance issues, especially in regulated industries where adherence to certificate policies and industry standards is essential.
Risks of Compromised Code Signing Certificates
- Malware Distribution: If a code signing certificate is compromised, attackers can use it to sign malicious code, making the software or updates appear legitimate. This allows them to distribute malware under the guise of a trusted source. Users are more likely to execute such code, putting their systems and data at risk.
- Impersonation Attacks: When a code signing certificate is compromised, the digital identity of the legitimate software publisher is essentially compromised. Attackers can use the identity to impersonate the developer, eroding trust and potentially causing financial and legal consequences for the organization.
- Legal and Reputational Impact: A compromised code signing certificate can have severe legal and reputational consequences for the affected software development organization if the signed code causes harm or damage to users or systems.
- Difficulty in Revocation and Remediation: Identifying and revoking a compromised certificate and cleaning up its misuse can be a complex and time-consuming process. In the meantime, users may continue to encounter compromised software that appears trustworthy and signed with the valid certificate.
The dangers associated with using expired or compromised code signing certificates are too significant to be overlooked, especially in light of the increasing rate of software supply chain threats (Sonatype recorded twice as many software supply chain attacks as the combined total from 2019-2022!) and code signing becoming a soft target. Given how vital code signing certificates are to ensuring the integrity and security of software, it is imperative to implement secure code signing processes to safeguard the software supply chain and uphold user trust.
Implementing secure code signing starts with understanding the best practices. Read this blog to learn about Seven Code Signing Best Practices You Need to Know to practice secure code signing without undermining the speed and agility of modern-day DevOps.
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