Full Disclosure: Windows File Protection Arbitrary Certificate Chain Vulnerability Dec 26 2002 10:55AM
FORENSICS.ORG Security Coordinator (secalert forensics org)

Windows File Protection Arbitrary Certificate Chain Vulnerability

December 26, 2002 [Full Disclosure, secure (at) microsoft (dot) com [email concealed] and others]
December 24, 2002 [Private Disclosure]

Jason Coombs <jasonc (at) science (dot) org [email concealed]>

FORENSICS.ORG Security Coordinator <secalert (at) forensics (dot) org [email concealed]>

Windows File Protection will trust any digital signature whose certificate
chain is rooted at any one of the Trusted Root Certification Authorities.
Versions of Windows (and Internet Explorer) ship with various preconfigured
Trusted Root Certification Authorities that are automatically trusted not
just as potential Root CA's for SSL certificate chains but also as valid
Root CA's for code signing certificates. Many Root CA's issue SSL
certificates that have improper Key Usage and Enhanced Key Usage Object
Identifiers (OIDs), and missing or invalid Basic Constraints, making many
SSL certificates identical in function to more privileged certificates. In
the case of missing Basic Constraints, Windows is known to trust a
certificate as though it were a legitimate Intermediate Certification
Authority even with recent patch (Q329115) applied to resolve MS02-050
"Certificate Validation Flaw Could Enable Identity Spoofing" where the Basic
Constraints field, if present, was ignored completely. A related SECURITY
ALERT issued today "Windows File Protection Old Security Catalog
Vulnerability" explains that WFP is designed to trust equally every version
of published code that it has ever trusted by way of its installed Security
Catalogs (.CAT files), making it easy for an attacker to replace new code
that contains bug fixes and patches for security vulnerabilities with old
code that is known to be vulnerable to various exploits.

Windows File Protection (a.k.a. Windows Driver Signing) [1] verifies digital
signatures applied to operating system binaries, device drivers, and other
OS files, as well as files published by third-parties [2] that are certified
by Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) (a.k.a. Microsoft Windows Hardware
Compatibility). The vulnerability disclosed in this communication is simply
that any digitally-signed replacement file of malicious origin will take
priority over any authentic WFP/WHQL-signed file.

Anyone can now obtain anonymous code signing and SSL certificates
automatically and free of charge from the following CA:

GeoTrust Inc.

whose Root Certificate is:

CN = UTN-USERFirst-Network Applications
OU = http://www.usertrust.com
O = The USERTRUST Network
L = Salt Lake City
S = UT
C = US

And use this anonymous freessl.com/usertrust.com/geotrust.com certificate to
digitally sign malicious code (e.g. using SIGNCODE.EXE) that Windows File
Protection (WFP) will automatically trust by virtue of the fact that the
certificate's Root CA (usertrust.com) is one of the Root Certificates
trusted by default in standard Windows/IE installations. It should be noted,
however, that every Root CA that issues certificates that can be used for
code signing (all CA's of which this author is aware do sell code signing
certificates in addition to SSL certificates) enables any attacker in
possession of a valid code signing certificate signed by any Root CA to
apply a digital signature to malicious code and deploy it without detection
to any Windows box that relies on WFP for malicious code/Trojan detection.

A related SECURITY ALERT issued today [3] "Windows File Protection Old
Security Catalog Vulnerability" explains that WFP is designed to trust
equally every version of published code that it has ever trusted by way of
its installed Security Catalogs (.CAT files), making it easy for an attacker
to replace new code that contains bug fixes and patches for security
vulnerabilities with old code that is known to be vulnerable to various

Therefore, only manual forensic verification of full-file hashes with
comparison against a list of known good hashes (i.e. authentic hashes) will
properly reveal the malicious replacement when an attacker applies a
verifiable digital signature to an old Windows binary whose hash code can
still be found in an old Security Catalog file, or when an attacker is able
to place malicious code that contains a digital signature embedded in the PE
file format "Certificates Table" data directory entry [4]. The following
"Action Required" is thus inadequate to defend against misplaced trust when
the attack uses digitally-signed malicious code or digitally-signed old, but
authentic, vulnerable code published (and digitally-signed) in the past by a
legitimate software vendor.
Action Required

(Current Best Practice)
Delete your default Root CA Certificates. All of them.

Ignore Windows File Protection. If you must use it, run SIGVERIF.EXE and
manually examine the log file (Click the Advanced button to configure scan
parameters and logging) to determine who the publisher is of each trusted
file that appears to have a valid digital signature. Be aware that it's
possible for an attacker to acquire a certificate from a trusted Root CA or
Intermediate CA that has the same common name (CN) as an authentic Microsoft
certificate, such as "Microsoft Windows 2000 Publisher" in which case your
analysis of the log file created by SIGVERIF.EXE will be useless unless you
also know the filename of the Security Catalog file inside which each file's
hash code should be found. The only way to get this information easily is to
compare SIGVERIF.EXE log files between Windows boxes, because the Security
Catalog files themselves do not contain filenames of the files they are
meant to authenticate, .CAT files contain only hashes.

Script the verification of trust for your executable code files using
CHKTRUST.EXE instead of WFP, since CHKTRUST.EXE relies on the WinTrust API
instead of WFP. WinTrust will only trust software publisher certificates
(SPCs) that are selected explicitly and configured for automatic trust by
way of the following Registry keys:

Providers\Software Publishing\Trust Database

Providers\Software Publishing\Trust Database

Produce your own digital signatures instead using a code signing certificate
that you issued to yourself from your own Trusted Root Certification
Authority certificate store. Details for producing your own Security
Catalogs and managing your own Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) for the
purpose of preventing unwanted code execution will be available at the
following URL which is controlled by this author:


(Adequate Protection)
First, upgrade to Windows XP or Windows .NET Server 2003 from whatever
prehistoric version of Windows you're using now so that you can enable
Software Restriction Policies per the following instructions. Add a new hash
code rule for every system binary and other executable file you wish to
allow to run on your box; this establishes a fixed trust policy based on the
authentic hashes of code that you choose to trust rather than a variable
trust policy based on anything that Windows thinks is legitimate based on
the appearance that it has a valid digital signature. This fixed/static
trust policy is superior to the dynamic one provided through the use of
digital signatures, because whether or not something is digitally-signed or
meant to be trusted (today, as opposed to in the past) is determined
automatically by Windows, inclusive of its known flaws in analyzing
certificate chains, when signatures (and PKI) are used -- these fancy
cryptographic schemes are not necessary in order to countermand execution of
unwanted code, and they actually interfere with your ability to prevent
unwanted code when there are problems with the implementation or design of
these variable trust-based PKI systems:

Q324036 HOW TO: Use Software Restriction Policies in the Windows .NET Server

Q310791 Description of the Software Restriction Policies in Windows XP

And then... (it will take you a long time to explicitly authorize each
executable module and DLL, which is why deploying your own Security Catalogs
with your own PKI-based Root CA and code signing certificate is the Best
Practice today.)

Disable Windows File Protection completely by deleting all Root CA
certificates from every trusted certificate store per the following
instructions, which you must apply in reverse (that is, the following
Knowledge Base Article shows you how to recover from a failed Windows File
Protection condition due to missing Root Certificates -- if WFP is already
working, kill it by following these instructions in reverse):

Q296241 Windows File Protection May Not Start

Note that you should NOT follow the instructions found in Q293819, as they
remove only the current user's Root CA certificates rather than every
certificate deployed to your box:

Q293819 How to Remove a Root Certificate from the Trusted Root Store

(Common Sense)
Remember to make a record of the authentic hashes of the files you've chosen
to trust explicitly so that you can audit your system later and compare your
hashes against those of a peer or another Windows box that you also control.
Command-line utilities to compute full-file hashes are available on every OS
platform, and you can build your own easily with Microsoft .NET per the
following article written by this author and published in MSDN Magazine:

Tamper-Resistant Apps
Cryptographic Hash Algorithms Let You Detect Malicious Code in ASP.NET
by Jason Coombs
Preventive per Contra Response to Vendor Response

The following Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes per Contra response is offered in
advance to the anticipated vendor response to this SECURITY ALERT as a
preventive measure in the interest of diminishing the Mean Time Before Fix
(MTBF). Yes, this behavior is by design; placing documentation to this
effect in the manual and crying RTFM is foul. There is no reason to
automatically trust any Root CA when it comes to code signing. Windows File
Protection should never have been designed to trust digital signatures on
software based on certificate chains, WFP should trust only specific
certificates the way that WinTrust operates.

When the vendor redesigns this feature, it would be sensible to also deploy
a better system for managing certificates and trust relationships with End
Entities, Root CA's, and any site that needs SSL for the purpose of
encryption but doesn't care about the authentication features that it never
provided properly in the first place for users of Windows. There is a large
demand, and a legitimate demand, for anonymous SSL certificates like those
distributed by freessl.com/geotrust.com/usertrust.com -- however, bad code
deployed in the wild today like Windows File Protection, and flawed security
policies that rely on such bad code, make the availability of free,
anonymous SSL certificates/code signing certificates an urgent and immediate
information security threat. Rather than shut down Certification Authorities
with bad security practices, this author suggests that vendors who produce
bad code should issue patches immediately to remediate the vulnerability
from the source rather than attempt to prune competition for
security-related products and services from the digital marketplace.

Certificates should be managed by each node/end-user in a manner similar to
the way that cookies are now managed in Internet Explorer. Each
end-user/administrator of each node on the network should be able to easily
define a security policy and the default setting should be to block and deny
all. Each capability possible with respect to each certificate (SSL/code
signing/e-mail signatures, etc.) should be a separate security policy
setting that the end-user or an authorized administrator must explicitly
allow on a per-certificate basis.

This author will gladly code these revisions for vendor if vendor will
release the relevant source code under the terms of an open source license.
Responsible Disclosure

The Internet Draft known as draft-christey-wysopal-vuln-disclosure-00.txt
formerly located at the following URL has expired and has been removed from


Neither its authors nor any other party chose to advance a responsible
disclosure standard through any IETF working group due to lack of interest.
Therefore the following observations take priority as de facto "best
practices" for information security and encryption research and responsible
communication of security- and cryptography-related vulnerability findings:

A. Full disclosure made directly to those who care enough about security to
read security alert and advisory documents like this one is an effective way
to communicate vulnerability details to those who most urgently need them
and who are most likely to act upon them.

B. There are always mitigating factors; and there may be imperfections in
this author's forensic analysis of the information security vulnerability
described in this communication due to time constraints and the need to
disseminate the information that resulted from the author's information
security and encryption research in a timely manner so that it can be
peer-reviewed, confirmed widely through experiments conducted independently
by other researchers, and custom-tailored to the needs and circumstances of
those who are affected by the discovery. This author relies on the
information security community at large to identify and document every
permutation of legitimate mitigating factors.


D. A small, highly-skilled and diligent distributed group of
self-coordinating, self-organizing infosec experts who know each other and
communicate freely is far more capable of responding to security incidents
and moving forward any and all preventative measures necessary to minimize
the security risk and imminent dangers of any infosec threat than are dozens
of people and organizations compromised by politics and fear. To ensure
continued high-quality, timely, and accurate vulnerability disclosure
requires peer-reviewed communication free from restrictive and oppressive
forces. Those who pose a threat to information security have this freedom to
communicate because they take it or they make it even though it requires
them to take personal risk. For information security professionals and the
United States Government to deny themselves, their employees, and citizens
this same freedom as a defense against attack is not only counter-productive
it is also insane.

E. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it a crime in the
United States (including Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and
so forth) to circumvent computer security devices and algorithms that have
the effect of protecting copyrighted works from unauthorized access,
copying, modification, tampering, or reverse engineering unless there is a
legitimate information security research purpose and the researcher's
methodology meets certain requirements. If this author was, or henceforth
is, physically present in a jurisdiction regulated by the DMCA when any copy
of this communication was/is authored, or any portion of its communicated
information security and/or encryption research was/is physically conducted
by this author, this author hereby invokes the information security
exemptions contained in the DMCA section 1201 and other sections,
subsections, and paragraphs. The information security analysis performed by
the author of this communication was conducted on equipment owned by the
author or to which the author was granted authorized access. Each
copyrighted work relied upon by the author while performing information
security testing in connection with this communication was duly licensed to
the author, the author's employer, and/or the entity who authorized the
author to conduct information security and/or encryption research using
same, to the best of the author's knowledge. The author hereby disclaims any
and all liability, both civil and criminal, for benefits the author received
from copyright violations potentially committed by others and the author
further asserts freedom from criminal prosecution as an individual by virtue
of the fact that author may have been acting in the capacity of employee,
board member, or other representative of (an) employer(s) rather than acting
in the capacity of individual when the author prepared this communication
for distribution and conducted the aforementioned information security
analysis, penetration, circumvention, reverse engineering, and/or encryption

F. The DMCA section 1201 "Circumvention of copyright protection systems"
also includes provisions for "PERMISSIBLE ACTS OF ENCRYPTION RESEARCH".
There should be no concern on the part of any security researcher or
cryptographer that communicating the results of an ethical information
security analysis might result in arrest and prosecution for violation of
author of this document hereby declares this communication to be protected
speech as defined by prevailing Constitutional law interpretation of
Amendment I of the United States Constitution; this speech is protected
because of its political nature, because the author was/is forced by the
existence of laws and the existence of irrational legal- and/or
peer-pressure to fear prosecution or hardship resulting from this
communication, because it represents the author's exercise of a freedom to
assemble insofar as this communication is a call for an assembly of the
author's peers for the purpose of analysis of the aforementioned security
vulnerability, an assembly that may in fact occur in meatspace as well as
cyberspace, and because it petitions the U.S. Government to relieve the
present atmosphere of uncertainty it has created and/or allowed to be
created with respect to the freedom of information security researchers to
carry out unauthorized penetrations and circumventions of information
security, copyright, and/or digital access control systems whenever the
circumventions or access control penetrations occur without explicit
permission from every copyright-holder, patent-holder, or other interested
party whose rights and reasonable expectations of law enforcement protection
might have been violated or infringed. The U.S. Government portends in the
language of its legislation that a person must not be criminally liable for
penetration testing her own door lock, but fails to distinguish between the
act as a protected exemption that violates no law and subjects the owner of
the door (and of the lock) to no possible civil or criminal liability, and
the subsequent detailed communication of the act inclusive of instructions
that are executable by a digital machine that enable other owners of doors
(and locks) of a similar design to benefit from this security and/or
cryptography research. Therefore, while this author is certain of impunity
in all U.S. civil and criminal courts for information security research and
encryption research actions taken by this author prior to this
communication, this author has reason to fear that the content of this
communication, should it be deemed to be sufficiently-detailed so as to be
usable as a tool of digital system penetration and/or circumvention, could
create devastating legal problems for this author sufficient to destroy the
rest of this author's life and significantly damage the lives of this
author's dependents. This author participates in the action of authorship
and takes credit for this communication openly in spite of the extreme risk
it may represent, confident that unjust abusive prosecution, violations of
this author's various Constitutional rights, and abusive civil lawsuits that
are criminal acts on behalf of the plaintiff in many jurisdictions, and
which may in fact be criminal acts in the jurisdiction local to this author,
will not be tolerated by a just society.

G. With respect to registered Trademarks and copyrighted materials
referenced or contained wholly in this communication the author claims fair
use under Title 17 of United States Code with respect to alleged copyright
infringement; and the author claims the privilege of media communication
made in the public interest (freedom of the press) with respect to alleged
violations of United States Federal law, State and municipal laws, and/or
international Treaties that seek to regulate this communication or control
subsequent access to it.

H. Like an IETF Working Group or an open source or free software/GNU
development effort, anyone who wishes to do so and who has something of
value to contribute can contact infosec peers and solicit the forensic
analysis help of any other security coordinator, infosec, or forensics
expert without fear of prosecution for criminal conspiracy. In practice,
contacting a vendor expecting forensic analysis assistance is futile;
vendors will take a new vulnerability report and conduct their own forensic
analysis but won't reveal additional aspects of a vulnerability to you
because you are untrustworthy. The vendor has no incentive to spread
vulnerability information and you have no "need to know" more than the
vendor chooses to tell you about the scope of the vulnerability you
discovered. Entrusting vendors with exclusive possession of vulnerability
details is counterproductive to the desired end-result of secure information
systems and properly hardened security policies; the analysis capabilities
of security researchers who are not restricted by employment contracts,
confidentiality agreements, and other impairments are superior in every
respect and in every instance thus far examined by this author.

I. This entire communication is Copyright (C) 2002-9999 by its author and/or
the author's employer(s), renewed annually through the creation of derived
works and potential copyright registration with the Library of Congress, and
all rights are reserved. You are hereby granted a limited right to access
this communication and distribute copies of this communication for the
limited purposes of information security, encryption research, or fair use
reproduction/citation. All other reproduction and access rights are reserved
by the Copyright holder.

J. Notice is hereby served that patent rights may exist benefiting the
author and/or the author's employer(s) in any or all work, methods, and
discoveries communicated herein. Should such patent rights ever be claimed
by a third-party in any jurisdiction covered by U.S. Federal law or
international treaty to which the United States is a party, author and/or
author's employer hereby claim right of priority. Failure to file an
application for patent within the statutory window of opportunity for
exercising a right of priority shall in no way diminish the author's right
to file, or cause to be filed, a Statutory Invention Registration (SIR)
patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); the
potential prosecution of which can be inferred by public distribution of
this communication and this notice. Any patentable matter, method, process,
algorithm, or other intellectual property deserving of patent protection
expressed in this communication is now prior art, subject to the
aforementioned right of priority and right to prosecute application for SIR.

[1] Driver Signing for Windows

[2] Driver Signing / File Protection

[3] Windows File Protection Old Security Catalog Vulnerability


[4] Microsoft Portable Executable and Common Object File Format
Specification v6.0
Appendix: Calculating Image Message Digests


[ reply ]


Privacy Statement
Copyright 2010, SecurityFocus