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Code Signing Challenges

1. What are the common code signing challenges organizations face?

  • Private key theft or misusePrivate keys are the heart of the code signing process and must be protected at all times. If the private keys linked to the code signing certificates are stolen, attackers could use the compromised code signing certificate to sign malware and then distribute the software under a verified publisher name. Despite the awareness, many developers often store code signing keys on their local machines or build servers, exposing their organizations to private key theft and data breaches.
  • No visibility or control over code signing events – Modern enterprises have their development teams working in several locations across the world. Different teams use different tools for signing, and often leave private keys and certificates on developer endpoints or build servers. InfoSec teams have no visibility into these code signing events – who is accessing the private key, where they are stored, and what code was signed – in turn creating security blind spots and auditing and compliance issues.
  • Making code signing DevOps-friendly – code signing has to be easy to use for developers, which means it needs to be integrated with DevOps processes, tool chains, and automation workflows. code signing must support various signing tools that distributed development teams use. Access to private keys must be easy, seamless, and secure so developers can sign code at speed without worrying about private key protection and storage.
  • Signing breachcode signing ensures the integrity of software, but it does not guarantee that the signed code itself is free from vulnerabilities. It is important to remember that hackers don’t always need private keys to sign malware. Build servers or developer endpoints with unregulated access to code signing systems can also be hacked to get malicious code signed and distributed to users without detection. 

 2. What is the best approach to code signing to prevent attacks?

  • Build visibility – Take stock of all the code signing keys and certificates used across your organization to help security teams stay on top of vulnerabilities.
  • Protect private keys – Private keys are the most important part of code signing. So, the CA/B Forum requires private keys to be generated and secured on secure hardware crypto modules such as hardware security modules (HSMs) that are at least FIPS 140-2 Level 2 or Common Criteria EAL 4+. To adhere to the CA/B Forum mandate and prevent the misuse or theft of certificates, store private keys in secure vaults and compliant Hardware Security Modules (HSMs).
  • Perform code integrity checks: Perform a full code review before signing it to ensure it is free of any vulnerabilities. Once signed, verify all developer signatures to ensure the final code published is safe for end-users and customers. 
  • Timestamp code: Apply a timestamp to the code to ensure that the digital signature remains valid, even after the certificate used for signing expires.
  • Use test-signing certificates: Employ private trust test certificates or those issued by an internal CA to sign the pre-release code. 
  • Rotate keys: Rotate keys regularly. Use unique and separate keys for signing different releases across multiple DevOps teams to limit the extent of damage a breach can cause in the event of key theft.
  • Centralized management of code signing keys and certificates reduces complexity and ensures consistent practices across different teams and projects.
  • Control and govern code signing operations – Define and enforce code signing policies to standardize code signing process across the organization. Implement RBAC to regulate access to private keys to mitigate the risk of unauthorized access and theft.
  • Simplify code signing for DevOps – Integrate with DevOps processes and pipelines for automated, consistent, and fast code signing practices throughout the software development lifecycle.
  • Streamline audits and compliance – Maintain audit logs and reports to closely track code signing activities, detect anomalies, and ensure compliance with industry regulations. 

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