The Broken Shield: Measuring Revocation Effectiveness in the Windows Code-Signing PKI

Doowon Kim, Bum Jun Kwon, Kristián Kozák, Christopher Gates, and Tudor Dumitraș

Recent measurement studies have highlighted security threats against the code-signing public key infrastructure (PKI), such as certificates that had been compromised or issued directly to the malware authors. The primary mechanism for mitigating these threats is to revoke the abusive certificates. However, the distributed yet closed nature of the code signing PKI makes it difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of revocations in this ecosystem. In consequence, the magnitude of signed malware threat is not fully understood. In this paper, we collect seven datasets, including the largest corpus of code-signing certificates, and we combine them to analyze the revocation process from end to end. Effective revocations rely on three roles: (1) discovering the abusive certificates, (2) revoking the certificates effectively, and (3) disseminating the revocation information for clients. We assess the challenge for discovering compromised certificates and the subsequent revocation delays. We show that erroneously setting revocation dates causes signed malware to remain valid even after the certificate has been revoked. We also report failures in disseminating the revocations, leading clients to continue trusting the revoked certificates.

Doowon Kim, Bum Jun Kwon, Kristián Kozák, Christopher Gates, and Tudor Dumitraș. 2018. The broken shield: measuring revocation effectiveness in the windows code-signing PKI. In Proceedings of the 27th USENIX Security Symposium. USENIX.