Code Signing

Future Trends in Enterprise Code Signing. What to Watch for?

Future Trends in Enterprise Code Signing

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Code signing is a crucial step in today’s zero-trust world in preserving the integrity of infrastructure and software. When done correctly, code signing guarantees that only the appropriate individuals and resources have access to sign code, and that signature allows users and devices to decide which software to trust — and which not to trust.

Naturally, implementing the proper code signing methods to achieve the desired end state is easier said than done, as is the case with everything in the security industry. To safeguard against breaches and supply chain threats, however, doing it right will be a top focus for 2023. The importance of code signing will increase significantly as 2023 approaches, therefore, Future trends in code signing is what we should look out for.

What is Enterprise Code Signing?

The method of “code signing” involves digitally signing executables and scripts (whether they be pieces of software or firmware) to verify the software’s authorship. Code signing makes use of cryptographic hashing to confirm the validity and guarantee the integrity of the code by confirming it hasn’t been altered after being published.

Simply expressed, we sign the code because we do not want to take the chance that it will be maliciously damaged. Software is incredibly important to us. Software integrity is therefore one of our key concerns. A damaged or “cracked” program can lead to:

  • Losses in funds
  • Human casualties
  • Uncertainty in politics
  • Reputational damage
  • Other major catastrophes

What is an Enterprise Code Signing Certificate?

A Code Signing Certificate is a digital certificate that is issued by a Certificate Authority like GlobalSign and contains information that completely identifies a business. A public key is mathematically tied to a  private key and is bound to an organization’s identity by a digital certificate. The phrase “public key infrastructure” (PKI) refers to the use of both private and public key systems. The end user uses the developer’s public key to confirm the developer’s identity once the developer signs the code with its private key.

The digital certificate is designated for the particular use of code that has been digitally signed; in PKI, this is known as key use. A timestamp is added when a digital signature is used. The signed code is guaranteed to be valid long after the digital certificate expires thanks to this time-stamping function. Even if the digital certificate used to sign the code initially expires, a new signature is not required unless you are adding more code or making modifications to the existing code.

Examples of Code Signing

  • Under MS Windows

    You can only run signed PowerShell scripts, load signed libraries, and run signed programs via software restriction rules. Code that is not signed will never execute! Code signing is effective provided that you have other regulations in place and do not grant your user excessive flexibility.

  • On mobile devices

    As a rule, all software must be signed

  • OS Drivers

    All are signed on every platform

  • Java Virtual Machine

    Code signature checking can be made mandatory, for example, applets must be signed.

  • Open-source archives and packages

    Code signing provides the more demanded authenticity , integrity, and security of software distributed within the open-source community.

  • POS terminals and other extremely secure devices

    Only code that has been signed is allowed to run.

  • Medical and avionic device software is signed

On an industrial or vital scale, there are various application scenarios where code signing plays a crucial role, including:

  • e-Government
  • e-Banking
  • Internet of Things (IoT) Manufacturing
  • Power plants

Different Types of Code Signing Certificates

For public trust usage, code signing certificates are available as Organization Validation (OV) or Standard Certificates and Extended Validation (EV) Certificates.

Extended Validation (EV) Code Signing Certificates 

They come with all the benefits of digitally signed code in addition to a stringent vetting procedure and hardware security requirement, boosting adoption and trust. As a result, your users can have even more faith in the reliability of your applications.

Benefits of EV code signing certificate:

  • Two-factor authentication

    After purchasing your certificate, you will receive a USB drive that has an encrypted token that contains the private key. Your EV code signing certificate offers strengthened authentication and improved security because only those who possess the physical device can sign the code with it.

  • Time-sensitive signing

    Your signature will continue to be valid even after the original EV code signing certificate used to sign it has expired by including an optional timestamp. Without a timestamp, your signature expires along with the certificate, necessitating a new code signature.

  • SmartScreen for Microsoft Defender

    Automatically achieve trusted status on the Microsoft Defender SmartScreen® Reputation filter, which will reduce warnings while boosting the reputation of the brand and user trust.

  • Hardware security module assistance

    You can install DigiCert EV Code Signing Certificates on HSMs to have better control over your certificates and their private keys. The saved certificate can be used to sign code by anyone inside your company with authorized access to the HSM.

  • Platform compatibility across all types

    Your certificate does not have to be reissued to sign code for a different platform (such as Authenticode, Kernel Mode, etc.).

Organization Validation (OV) Code Signing Certificate

Organizations like software publishing businesses who want to sign their software applications with an organization’s certified identity should use the SSL.com OV Code Signing Certificate. Teams who sign using a common organizational identification benefit the most from using the OV code signing certificate.

Organization Authentication is the first prerequisite to obtaining an Organization Validated Code Signing certificate. Here, the Certificate Authority (CA) makes an effort to confirm that your company is a real, existing business with legal standing in the location where it has registered.

What exactly is Organizational Authentication?

It is true what it says when it comes to the Organization Authentication requirement: the CA will confirm that your organization is a duly registered corporation. If your records are up to date, there shouldn’t be any issues. However, bear in mind that you will need to make sure that all of your registration information is accurate and reflects this prior if your firm utilizes any trade names, assumed names, or DBAs.

Usually, the CA will be able to confirm this utilizing an online government database. The CA will look up your local municipality’s, state’s, or nation’s official website to see if it provides information about business entity registration. Of course, for your certificate to be issued promptly, the information you gave to the CA must correspond with the information recorded in the government database.

Don’t panic if the CA is unable to access an online government database to verify your information, either because yours lacks current records or doesn’t give it at all. There are alternative ways to meet these criteria.

  • Official Registration Documents

    The CA can also accept official business documents that prove your organization is a legitimate legal entity.

  • Dun & Bradstreet

    Dun & Bradstreet is a company that provides financial reports on other organizations.

  • Legal Opinion Letter

    A Legal Opinion Letter is a document wherein an attorney or accountant essentially vouches for the authenticity of your organization.

Policies And Standards Applicable to Code Signing

Guidelines and processes for the issuing and use of code-signing keys, including those on topics like these, are a part of effective code-signing policies.

  • Key Issuance

    Set rules and guidelines for who can issue keys and when while developing management protocols. Depending on their job, team members should be aware of when keys should be distributed. Control the characteristics that go along with the different key types that are issued. By doing this, it is possible to prevent the issuance of new keys that use vulnerable algorithms and open up new attack paths.

  • Key Management

    Configure user roles’ controls and protocols. Who controls the keys? What roles exist within teams, organizations, and different production stages, and how are they divided up in terms of key management? Location tracking for all keys across the company should be a part of these procedures.

  • Key Storage

    Protecting keys is necessary. Set up restrictions and protocols for both active and inactive key storage. HSMs, tokens, USBs, and multi-factor authentication-enabled key access should all be part of this. Keys should not be misplaced or stored incorrectly; thus, team members must be aware of this.

  • Signing Permissions

    Members of the team should be aware of who is authorized to sign and the proper occasions. They should be aware of when signing authorization is denied and how to ask for signing if it is not their responsibility to do so.

  • Key Usage

    Correct signature techniques depend critically on how keys are used—or not used. Keys must be used by the appropriate parties at the appropriate times.

  • Preventing Key Sharing

    It’s customary to share keys. The procedure is also among the most hazardous. Even within the team’s internal servers, networks, and systems, team members shouldn’t ever exchange keys. Following each person’s job, keys should be issued, managed, and kept in a unique manner.

  • Continuous Signing

    Never consider code and software signing to be a laborious compliance process or an afterthought. Continuous Signing (CS) should be a part of every CI/CD workflow to ensure code security is applied correctly and consistently.

How Code Signing Works?

  • Select Your Preferred Code Signing Certificate

    Do you wish to permanently remove the “unknown publisher” warning notice from Windows Defender SmartScreen? Select the code signing certificate with extra validation. Are you trying to find a less expensive answer? If so, you should use an organization validation code signing certificate. The Windows User Access Control (UAC) window will now display your validated digital identity, but the Windows Defender SmartScreen will still appear because the Windows OS and browsers won’t automatically trust it.

    For OV code signing certificates, trust must be earned over time organically (as opposed to being granted immediately like it is with EV code signing certificates). This will have to be added to your order form before sending it to the Certificate Authority (CA). To do so, you can use:

    • Windows MMC Console, or OpenSSL.
    • A browser-based CSR Generator Tool.
  • Generate a Private-Public Key Pair

    Create a pair of private and public keys. Since asymmetric encryption is the foundation of code signing, you’ll need a public and private key pair. They can be produced with OpenSSL very easily:

    • To create your RSA private key, open a terminal window and type the following command:

      openssl genrsa -out key.pem 3072

    • You can now use the commands:

      openssl rsa -in csprivatekey. key -pubout -out cspublickey.pem

      to extract your public key.

    Done! You can now submit the CA your public key, let them perform the background investigation in accordance with protocol, and wait to get your code signing certificate.

  • Hash your Code and Encrypt It

    Hash your new code signing certificate arrived at last? Great! Come on, let’s hash! How? You essentially just sent your priceless code through a one-way hash function (i.e., it almost can’t be reversed because it takes too many resources and too long to do it). A predefined alphanumeric string called digest that has been generated as the output will be encrypted with your private key. Everyone will have access to the code in this case, but they cannot alter it.

  • Add a Time Stamp

    As long as the certificate was valid when the code was signed, the software will continue to be acknowledged as authentic, which helps you avoid displaying error messages when your certificate ultimately expires.

  • Sign your Software

    You now have everything you require to design your own special digital signature block. Combine:

    • The digest
    • The certificate for code signing, and
    • Use the hash function

    and include the newly formed signature block in your executable or code.

Code Signing Tools

Despite having different uses, code signing tools function similarly to document signing tools. A document signing tool (like Docusign) makes use of digital signatures to confirm that all parties to a document have accepted its terms and that the document hasn’t been changed since. Using digital signatures, a code signing tool can demonstrate that it was indeed written by the claimed developer and hasn’t been changed subsequently. While the other signs executable code, one tool is typically used on PDFs.

Use cases for Code Signing Tool

Developers can add a digital signature to their code using secure code signing tools, which has several benefits. The following are some typical use cases for code signatures:

  • Code Signature

    A code signature verifies that a piece of software was written by the person who claims to be its creator. This aids in guarding against malware such as trojans and other types that impersonate legitimate software to access a computer.

  • Software Integrity Validation

    The signed data must not have been changed since the digital signature was generated for the transaction to be legitimate. A code signature verifies that harmful or other undesired functionality has not been added to the software.

  • Defending Against Supply Chain Attacks

    Supply chain attacks like SolarWinds use the modification of legitimate code to include malware. Code signatures can make these attacks more challenging to carry out because the attacker must have their malicious code signed to be believed.

These benefits must, however, be applicable for the code signing procedure to be secure. If an attacker is able to get signing keys or convince a company to sign their malicious code, the malicious code will appear legitimate to users.

CodeSign Secure: The ultimate Code Signing tool that you need !

Encryption Consulting offers you the best Code signing tool out there, CodeSign Secure being the most efficient and user-friendly code-signing solution provides you with different kind of signing for your different use-cases.

  • Windows Signing
  • Jar Signer
  • Open SSL Signing

We offer the above-mentioned features but imagine all these things coming under a single roof? Encryption Consulting KSP, command line tool that automatically detects the file extension and proceeds with the appropriate signing method. Just by giving a few inputs, KSP returns the signed file in just a matter of time. No need to switch between apps, when you have KSP with you it gives you a centralised working space get all you signing done.

What makes our company distinct from other companies?

  • We use CodeSign secure which uses client-side hashing which provides you with that extra layer of security for the customers. Hashing a file at its origin helps maintain its integrity at its peak and gives the customer a clear view of the file and what comes after signing.
  • The file is signed inside HSM, and the keys are never exposed to the outside world.
  • Our organization provides Role-based access control for code/file signing providing correct access and privileges to the user.
  • Timestamping your signed code so as to avoid the risks of software expiring unexpectedly when the code signing certificate expires. When a code signing certificate expires, the validity of the software that was signed will also expire unless the software was timestamped when it was signed.
  • CodeSign Secure uses the latest guidelines and standard norms of code signing.

Conclusion

Software is used in most parts of daily living and business-critical systems around the globe. Therefore, it is essential that the code executing on these systems can be relied upon. As we are in the era of digitalization, different apps are downloaded in bulk or are used online as services which are routinely updated/distributed digitally. Secure code signing has become imperative as applications containing sensitive data, business transactions, or operations involving the safety of human life demand more than the usual pre-packaged signature techniques. To prevent irregular or malicious and unverified signing, this article suggests secure signature techniques that employ HSMs to store the key material and enforce safe protocols.

Our code signing tool, CodeSign Secure, offers a simple and efficient way to sign your code and protect your software, making sure that it complies with the standards of today’s security-conscious digital environment. It is user friendly and convenient to use.  

Our code-signing tool helps you increase user trust, defend against malware and online attacks, and protect your reputation as a developer by utilizing strong encryption algorithms, stringent security protocols, and authentication mechanisms so that you can work without worrying about the authenticity of your software when you use our code-signing tool.

In conclusion, code signing is an essential tool for ensuring the security and integrity of software. Our company provides code signing ensuring the users that the software they are using comes from a reliable source and has not been tampered with by digitally signing software code with a special digital certificate. It is a security measure built to prioritize the safety of our clients digitally.

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Code signing is a process to confirm the authenticity and originality of digital information such as a piece of software code.

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About the Author

Akashdeep is a Consultant at Encryption Consulting, working with PKIs, HSMs and key management.

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