Code signing keys and certificates are crucial security assets, are you protecting them?

Only 28 percent of organizations consistently enforce a defined security process for code signing certificates, a Venafi study of over 320 security professionals in the U.S., Canada and Europe reveals.

code signing risks

“When the code signing keys and certificates that serve as machine identities fall into the hands of attackers, they can inflict enormous damage,” said Kevin Bocek, vice president of security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi.

“Secure code signing processes enable apps, updates, and open source software to run safely, but if they’re not protected attackers can turn them into powerful cyber weapons. Code signing certificates were the key reason Stuxnet and ShadowHammer were so successful.

“The reality is that every organization is now in the software development business, from banks to retailers to manufacturers. If you’re building code, deploying containers, or running in the cloud, you need to get serious about the security of your code signing processes to protect your business.”

The Venafi study found that although security professionals understand the risks of code signing, they are not taking proper steps to protect their organization from attacks. Key findings include:

  • Fifty percent are concerned cyber criminals are using forged or stolen code signing certificates to breach the security of their organizations.
  • Globally, only 29 percent consistently enforce code signing security policies, and this problem is much more acute in Europe, with only 14 percent doing so.
  • Thirty-five percent do not have a clear owner for the private keys used in the code signing processes at their organizations.
  • Sixty-nine percent expect their usage of code signing to grow in the next year.

Code signing processes are used to secure and assure the authenticity of software updates for a wide range of software products, including firmware, operating systems, mobile applications and application container images.

However, over 25 million malicious binaries are enabled with code signing certificates, and cyber criminals are misusing these certificates in their attacks. For example, security researchers recently discovered bad actors hiding malware in anti-virus tools by signing uploads with valid code signing certificates.

Bocek added: “Security teams and developers look at code signing security in radically different ways. Developers are primarily concerned about being slowed down because of their security teams’ methods and requirements. This disconnect often creates a chaotic situation that allows attackers to steal keys and certificates.

“In order to protect themselves and their customers, organizations need a clear understanding of where code signing is being used, control over how and when code signing is allowed, and integrations between code signing and development build systems. This comprehensive approach is the only way to substantially reduce risk while delivering the speed and innovation that developers and businesses need today.”