September 05, 2011, 5:36 PM — Microsoft said Sunday that a digital certificate stolen from a Dutch company could not be used to force-feed customers malware through its Windows Update service.
The company's assertion came after a massive theft of more than 500 SSL (secure socket layer) certificates, including several that could be used to impersonate Microsoft's update services, was revealed by Dutch authorities and several other affected developers.
"Attackers are not able to leverage a fraudulent Windows Update certificate to install malware via the Windows Update servers," said Jonathan Ness, an engineer with the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC), in a Sunday blog post. "The Windows Update client will only install binary payloads signed by the actual Microsoft root certificate, which is issued and secured by Microsoft."
Seven of the 531 certificates now known to have been fraudulently obtained by hackers in July were for the domains update.microsoft.com and windowsupdate.com, while another six were for *.microsoft.com.
According to Microsoft, the certificates issued for windowsupdate.com couldn't be used by attackers because the company no longer uses that domain. (Windows Update is now at windowsupdate.microsoft.com..) However, those for update.microsoft.com -- the domain for Microsoft Update -- and the wildcard *.microsoft.com could be.
As Ness said, updates delivered via Microsoft's services are signed with a separate certificate that's closely held by the company.
Without that code-signing certificate, attempts to deliver malware disguised as an update to a Windows PC would fail.
Other vendors, including Apple, also sign software updates with a separate certificate.
The certificates for the various Microsoft domains were issued by DigiNotar, a Dutch company that last week admitted its network had been hacked in mid-July .
The company initially believed it had revoked all the fraudulent certificates, but later realized it had overlooked one that could be used to impersonate any Google service, including Gmail. DigiNotar went public only after users reported their findings to Google.
Criminals or governments could use the stolen certificates to conduct "man-in-the-middle" attacks, tricking users into thinking they were at a legitimate site when in fact their communications were being secretly intercepted.