Attack Scenarios on Software Distributions

I’ve been asked to outline specific scenarios after I posted a previous entry on the Google’s network compromise.  Here are some, from most serious to least serious:

  • Build host – the machines that compile the source into binary packages are compromised.  In this scenario, code can be injected by the malicious party into the package just before it is signed and prepared for distribution.  All clients that install the updated packages are affected.  A software audit cannot identify the altered packages because the alteration happens after binaries are generated.
  • Distribution host and Signing key – the machines that host the packages for distribution (web servers) are compromised and the package signing key is compromised.  The effect of this is the same as a build host compromise.
  • Source repository – the machines that host the software source-code are compromised.  This allows code to be injected and all clients are affected.  However, a software audit can uncover the injected code.
  • Insider threats – an insider can insert non-obvious security holes into software they are responsible for.
  • Signing key – the key used to sign the software distribution is compromised.  This would allow the malicious party to compromise only specific targeted clients through a “man-in-the-middle” attack and DNS poisoning

How would multiple independent auditors help?  If the auditors can verify that a binary was produced from certain source, the build host compromise would be much harder, since the altered binary would not signed by the uncompromised auditors.  Similarly, a signing key compromise, if it is limited to a subset of auditors, would fail to get a full set of signatures on the altered package.

Source repository compromise and Insider injection of security holes would be more difficult to detect for subtle exploits, but again, multiple entities looking at the code increases the chances that the alteration would be caught.

(Note: verification that a certain binary was produced from certain source code requires a deterministic build system. Although such a system is relatively straightforward to implement, I have not run across one before I implemented Gitian.  I did find mention of it by Conifer Systems.)

One Response to Attack Scenarios on Software Distributions

  1. […] scenarios to better illustrate what the initiative is meant to protect against, which he did here. The Gitian site is here. In his blog post, Miron also points out that a deterministic build system […]

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