Code Signing, as a technology, provides authenticity to the software codes, applications and/or files. This is done by signing the code using digital certificates and public key infrastructure. Hence, code signing provides assurance and trust to end users against code tampering or corruption. This is just one of the benefit of using code signing. To explore the “Top 5 benefits of Code Signing“, please go through the blog article: www.encryptionconsulting.com/code-signing-top-5-benefits

Every organization is expected to benefit a lot through code signing and this very reason makes this technology critical. One has to keep in mind the best practices to be followed while implementing code signing. Because when there is a breach of private keys of your company due to poorly implemented infrastructure, it not only impacts the customers but also the trust they have on your brand and its products.

Let’s take a look into the most critical best practices your company has to follow while implementing code signing technology:

Code Signing: Best Practices :

  1. Separation of environments: Test signing and Release signingOne of the important code signing best practice is to set up a parallel environment for code signing infrastructure to sign test code with an internal test root Certificate Authority (CA). Internal test root CA would provide test certificates for signing the code. This benefits the firm in two ways, first benefit is limiting the exposure of actual private keys and code signing mechanisms to close group of users/developers and the other benefit is to opportunity to test the signed code for functionality bugs and vulnerabilities.

    Test signing can be done in two ways:

    • Test Certificate Signing Authority
    • Self-signed certificates

    Mid-size to small sized organizations can use self-signing certificates for the test code sign process. This might involve some effort to make the certificates trusted as, by default, it won’t be trusted. In general, one can obtain these certificates through free tools without using any public key infrastructure (PKI). Organizations with complex and huge size test environment can use internal test CA for generating test certificates for the code signing process.

    Either your firm uses self-signed certificates or internal test CA, always ensure that code signing process and root certificates are separated between test and production environment.

  2. Restricted access to Private keys through physical securitySystems with private keys have to have minimal access. As the saying goes, the most secure computer would be the one with minimum external connections. Hence, minimize the number of personnel having access to system with private keys used for code signing process.

    Physical security is equally important for securing the sensitive data. In spite of all the virtual measures taken, if there is an employee or contractor who gains unwanted access can be a high threat. Physical measures such as cameras, fingerprint access, security guards etc. can be utilized for providing physical security.

  3. Cryptographic hardware protection modules (HSMs)Cryptographic hardware protection modules restrict the export of private keys from these devices. Cryptographic modules are tamper proof and secure for storing keys that are used to sign digital certificates. There are three important types of cryptographic devices used for securing keys:

    In general, HSMs are preferred over other devices as the security standards are relatively higher. Ensure that all the devices used are compliant with FIPS 140 level 2 certified.

  4. Timestamp process: Public or PrivateTime stamping process helps in verifying the authenticity of the publisher after the expiry of certificate. Public time stamping authority can be used for cost benefit but it is always suggested to use internal timestamp authority to avoid public network access.

    Timestamp certificates can be issued for a maximum time period of 135 months. Strict measures has to be taken while you expose code signing process during external/public time stamping.

  5. Scan the code for viruses Code signing process helps in authenticating the code alone and cannot secure the code. Hence, it is always suggested to perform virus and malware scans before publishing the code and signing with digital certificates. Using virus/malware scan improves the quality of code as well.

If your organization is looking for implementation of Code signing, please consult info@encryptionconsulting.com for further information

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What is Code Signing?

Code signing is the process of authenticating software code/application/program/scripts to confirm the source of origin of the publisher and assure that the code has not been tampered or altered since it was signed.

Certificate Authorities (CA) confirm code signing source identity and bind their public key to a code signing certificate. This certificate enables validation of code sign with an authentic root certificate. Performing code sign will cater below three functions:

  • Provides authentication of code
  • Provides cryptographic protection
  • Software/code author validation


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Top 5 benefits of “Code Signing”:

Let us take a look into the top 5 benefits users can enjoy by using “Code signing”:

  1. Validates code integrity: Code signing provides integrity check of the code using hash function. Hash function is used at the source to sign the code and the same hash has to be matched at the destination. This provides proof of code integrity. If the hash is not matched, users would either receive a security warning or code will fail to download.

    Verification can be performed using timestamp as well. Code signing certificates might include optional time stamp. Time stamp data strip is included along with signature during the time of signature. This process ensures the validity of certificate at the time of signature.

  2. Issuing company reputation and authenticity:Using code signing process for authentication and validation of software, code and/or programs eliminates the risk of program corruption and tampering. This will safeguard the company’s reputation as well as intellectual property.

    Enhancing trust on both sides of the transaction, companies can be more benefitted with customers trusting their software programs, files etc. for download. With increase in reputation one can expect considerable increase in customer loyalty.

  3. Increase in revenue:Now a days, software publishers and network platform provides are increasingly mandating code signing process from a trusted source/certificate authority (CA) for distribution of software among users.

    This is even more beneficial for small companies or individual developers to gain trust among customers through authenticity and increase their brand presence as well as revenue.

  4. Safe and secure user experience:As already discussed in one of the points mentioned above, Code signing process builds mutual trust amongst both the parties i.e. vendor as well as consumer. On top of it, customers who use code signed software or files can be sure of security as the code is properly authenticated and validated which prevents code tampering.

    Also, using code signing provides smooth user experience as there will be minimized security warnings and installation failures when code is signed by trusted certificate authority.

  5. Seamless integration with multiple platforms:Code signing process is now available on multiple platforms such as Apple iOS, Windows, Linux, Android, JAVA, Adobe AIR etc. Many of these platforms highly recommend code signing process for code distribution.

    Many browsers would require code signed using certificate from trusted certificate authority and reject any action commands provided through untrusted sources. One interesting fact is, Microsoft office macros and Firefox browser extensions also require code signing.

If your organization is looking for implementation of Code signing, please consult info@encryptionconsulting.com for further information

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Code signing is the process of applying a digital signature to any software program that is intended for release and distribution to another party or user, with two key objectives. One is to prove the authenticity and ownership of the software. The second is to prove the integrity of the software i.e. prove that the software has not been tampered with, for example by the insertion of any malicious code. Code signing applies to any type of software: executables, archives, drivers, firmware, libraries, packages, patches, and updates. An introduction to code signing has been provided in earlier articles on this blog. In this article, we look at some of the business benefits of signing code.

Reduction in financial risk

As per recent research, the average cost of a malware attack is around $2.6 million1 and this poses a big financial risk to any organization. One of the root causes for malware is when software is installed without verifying whether the software is authentic and without confirming who is the owner of the software. Another source of malware attacks could be when attackers tamper with software from a source that the customer trusts and insert malicious code inside that software. Code signing addresses both these problems.
One point to note is that while code signing is necessary, it is not sufficient to prevent malware – for example, if the keys used for code signing certificates are themselves compromised. Management of keys therefore is an equally important area of focus and will be covered in a separate article.

Improved brand and reputation

Apart from the financial impact, a malware attack also results in a reputation impact, rapidly damaging organization credibility and raising questions about the security practices of any company. Code signing provides a “digital shrink wrap” seal to your software – it confirms software authenticity to your customer and warns the customer if the seal has been tampered with. For example, even if a single bit in the software is modified, the hash used to sign the software will not match with the hash for the downloaded software – warning the customer not to install the software and thereby preventing a breach. The net effect is to improve your company’s brand and reputation in the eyes of your customers.

Increase in customer trust

Without code signing, security warnings and alerts are shown to the user by the browser and operating system – introducing an element of doubt into the user’s mind and a subsequent loss of customer trust in the software. Customer trust can be further eroded by a malware attack, especially if the root cause analysis points to the lack of code signing being one of the reasons for the attack. Signing code is a great way of building customer confidence and trust by conveying to customers that the organization is doing whatever is possible to ensure the security and integrity of the software it is distributing.

Increasing the distribution reach and install base for your software

Online distribution of the software is becoming de-facto today considering the speed to market, reduced costs, scale, and efficiency advantages over traditional software distribution channels such as retail stores or software CDs shipped to customers. Code signing is a must for online distribution. For example, third party software publishing platforms increasingly require applications (both desktop as well as mobile) to be signed before agreeing to publish them.
Even if you are able to reach a large number of users, without code signing, the warnings shown during download and install of unsigned software are often enough to discourage the user from proceeding with the download and install. In fact, the overall trend is for operating systems to make it increasingly difficult for users to install unsigned software by asking users to go through multiple manual steps and override default security settings. In enterprises, unsigned software can often make it to the “blacklist” or list of software prohibited by the IT team from being downloaded and installed. Code signing can address these issues, help software publishers reach a larger audience, and increase the overall download rates and install base for software.
1As per a study from Accenture and Ponemon institute https://www.helpnetsecurity.com/2019/03/07/cyberattack-cost-2018/

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What is Code Signing?

 

Code signing solution is a process to confirm the authenticity and originality of digital information especially a software code and assuring that this digital information is valid and additionally establishes the legitimacy of the author. It also provides assurance that this piece of digital information has not changed or revoked after it has been signed by the validity of signature.

Whenever we download a program or software, and we see a pop saying “Are you sure you want to run this?”  or when we install a software and try to run then you get asked “Do you want to allow the following program to make changes to this computer” then that means code signing in action. And if the program downloaded or installed has not been code signed then we can see a small warning sign stating the same that it has not been code signed.

Why Code Sign Solution?

Code Signing Solution plays an important role as it can enable identification of a legitimate software v/s a malware or a rogue code. In technical terms, code signing creates a hash of the code and encrypts it with a private key adding its signature. During executing this signature is validated and if the hash match it gives assurance that the code has not been modified.  It also establishes assurance that the code is issued from a legitimate author that it is claiming to be once it has been digitally signed.


Risks associated with Code Signing Solution:

Few challenges come along with code signing like any other development process. Code signing is only effective if the associated software is secured.
Below are the few risks associated,

  • Stolen, corrupted or misused keys.
  • When access is granted to an unauthorized user in the system using malicious signature certificates, then that is going to hamper the code signing process.
  • Unsecured CA private keys would also lead to comprising the code signing system.
  • Establishing trust in the unauthorized certificates issued by would lead to the malfunction of the system.
  • The signing of unauthorized code.
  • Code signing can get hampered in an insecure cryptography system.

Best Practices for Code Signing Solution:

These include:

  • Establishing a high state of security on Private Keys – using HSMs or in a purpose-built environment.
  • Keeping track of Private Keys and Code Signing events – Maintaining and providing visibility access about who signed what and when.
  • Managing the assignment and revocation of publishers – Ensuring the access of Private Keys to only the authorized users.
  • Auditing Capability – Gives accountability and forensic insights on code signing activities.
  • It is of great importance if policies and procedures are reviewed before the signing of code as it would lead the development process to be more trustworthy and healthy.
  • Developing a strongly secured cryptography system will have no risk impact on the code signing process.

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