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Signed Malware

Stuxnet famously used legitimate digital certificates to sign its malware. A research paper from last year found that the practice is much more common than previously thought.

Now, researchers have presented proof that digitally signed malware is much more common than previously believed. What’s more, it predated Stuxnet, with the first known instance occurring in 2003. The researchers said they found 189 malware samples bearing valid digital signatures that were created using compromised certificates issued by recognized certificate authorities and used to sign legitimate software. In total, 109 of those abused certificates remain valid. The researchers, who presented their findings Wednesday at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, found another 136 malware samples signed by legitimate CA-issued certificates, although the signatures were malformed.

The results are significant because digitally signed software is often able to bypass User Account Control and other Windows measures designed to prevent malicious code from being installed. Forged signatures also represent a significant breach of trust because certificates provide what’s supposed to be an unassailable assurance to end users that the software was developed by the company named in the certificate and hasn’t been modified by anyone else. The forgeries also allow malware to evade antivirus protections. Surprisingly, weaknesses in the majority of available AV programs prevented them from detecting known malware that was digitally signed even though the signatures weren’t valid.

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“Proof Mode” for your Smartphone Camera

ProofMode is an app for your smartphone that adds data to the photos you take to prove that they are real and unaltered:

On the technical front, what the app is doing is automatically generating an OpenPGP key for this installed instance of the app itself, and using that to automatically sign all photos and videos at time of capture. A sha256 hash is also generated, and combined with a snapshot of all available device sensor data, such as GPS location, wifi and mobile networks, altitude, device language, hardware type, and more. This is also signed, and stored with the media. All of this happens with no noticeable impact on battery life or performance, every time the user takes a photo or video.

This doesn’t solve all the problems with fake photos, but it’s a good step in the right direction.

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Quantum Tokens for Digital Signatures

This paper wins “best abstract” award: “Quantum Tokens for Digital Signatures,” by Shalev Ben David and Or Sattath:

Abstract: The fisherman caught a quantum fish. “Fisherman, please let me go,” begged the fish, “and I will grant you three wishes.” The fisherman agreed. The fish gave the fisherman a quantum computer, three quantum signing tokens and his classical public key.

The fish explained: “to sign your three wishes, use the tokenized signature scheme on this quantum computer, then show your valid signature to the king, who owes me a favor.”

The fisherman used one of the signing tokens to sign the document “give me a castle!” and rushed to the palace. The king executed the classical verification algorithm using the fish’s public key, and since it was valid, the king complied.

The fisherman’s wife wanted to sign ten wishes using their two remaining signing tokens. The fisherman did not want to cheat, and secretly sailed to meet the fish. “Fish, my wife wants to sign ten more wishes.”

But the fish was not worried: “I have learned quantum cryptography following the previous story (The Fisherman and His Wife by the brothers Grimm). The quantum tokens are consumed during the signing. Your polynomial wife cannot even sign four wishes using the three signing tokens I gave you.”

“How does it work?” wondered the fisherman.

“Have you heard of quantum money? These are quantum states which can be easily verified but are hard to copy. This tokenized quantum signature scheme extends Aaronson and Christiano’s quantum money scheme, which is why the signing tokens cannot be copied.”

“Does your scheme have additional fancy properties?” the fisherman asked.

“Yes, the scheme has other security guarantees: revocability, testability and everlasting security. Furthermore, if you’re at the sea and your quantum phone has only classical reception, you can use this scheme to transfer the value of the quantum money to shore,” said the fish, and swam his way.

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