Coclin, who is co-chair of the CAB Forum, says precise details about new anti-fraud measures for proofing the identity of those buying code-signing certificates from certificate authorities will be unveiled next month and subject to a 60-day comment period. These new proposed identity-proofing requirements will be discussed at a meeting planned in February at Google before any adoption of them.
The CAB Forum's code-signing group is expected to espouse changes related to security that may impact software vendors and enterprises that use code-signing in their software development efforts so the CAB Forum wants maximum feedback before going ahead with its ideas on improving security in certificate issuance.
Coclin points out that commercial certificate authorities today must pass certain audits done by KPMG or PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example. In the future, if new requirements say certificate authorities have to verify the identity of customers in a certain way and they don't do it properly, that information could be shared with an Internet browser maker like Microsoft, which makes the Internet Explorer browser. Because browsers play a central role in the certificate-based code-signing process, Microsoft, for example, could take action to ensure its browser and OS do not recognize certificates issued by certificate authorities that violate any new identity-proofing procedures. But how any of this shake out remains to be seen.
McAfee, which unlike Symantec doesn't have a certificate authority business unit and is not a member of the CAB Forum, last month at its annual user conference presented its own research about how legitimate certificates are increasingly being used to sign malware in order to trick victims into downloading malicious code.
"The certificates aren't actually malicious — they're not forged or stolen, they're abused," said McAfee researcher Dave Marcus. He said in many instances, according to McAfee's research on code-signed malware, the attacker has gone out and obtained legitimate certificates from a company associated with top-root certificate authorities such as Comodo, Thawte or VeriSign. McAfee has taken to calling this the problem of "abused certificates," an expression that's not yet widespread in the industry as a term to describe the threat.
Coclin notes that one idea that would advance security would be to have a "code-signing portal" where a certificate authority could scan the submitted code to be checked for signs of malware before it was signed. He also said a good practice is hardware-based keys and security modules to better protect private keys used as part of the code-signing process.
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