Today, when you look for a well-known application on Google, you are more than likely to find dozens of download links from different websites. Even top-ranking links hide a lot of dangers. In this blog, you will see how a simple Chrome Extension for malware protection can safeguard you better than digital certificates or Google can.
The presence of a signing certificate is, in fact, not enough for trust and so is the source of the download. An increasing amount of malware and malware injected software, signed with legitimate digital certificates, are regularly distributed by highly ranked websites without being detected. A practice that exposes internet users to a lot of risks.
To confirm this thesis and quantify the level of risk that the average internet user is exposed to, I verified the integrity of popular applications by downloading them from the official websites and other highly ranked ones and comparing the hashes of the downloads.
Is my download bonafide and untampered software?
For my test, I used a very popular tool: PuTTY, the “as famous” open-source terminal emulator by Simon Tatham (https://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/). This tool counts millions of downloads and active users.
First, I installed CodeNotary Integrity Verification extension for Chrome by vChain. The extension protects internet users from installing malware, by automatically verifying the download unique hash to that of the official application, previously notarized with CodeNotary. If the hash does not correspond to the original, the user is altered so to avoid any dangerous installation. The extension is available here on the Chrome Web Store.
I, then, downloaded PuTTY from the official website. The extension confirmed that the software was original, obviously.
[caption id="attachment_1612" align="aligncenter" width="3620"] Successful integrity check of PuTTY by CodeNotary Chrome Extension[/caption]
Testing the integrity of PuTTY Downloads
I then moved on with testing downloads of PuTTY for top-5 links. I have to say that Simon Tatham is doing a better job at SEO, with the link to the official download website landing first in google search. Nevertheless, amongst the top-5 links, I could find other suspicious download links.
We clicked on the first link that looked like it was from a respectable source: soft32.com
Before doing that, we checked on McAfee Secure whether the website soft32.com was a known malware publisher and the result was negative.
[caption id="attachment_2097" align="aligncenter" width="3614"] Results of McAfee verification of Soft32.com website trust[/caption]
Also, in this case, vChain Chrome Extension immediately notified me that the file did not match to the version downloaded from official website resource.
In the case of PuTTY, McAfee WebAdvisor also alerted me that I was about to download a dangerous file and suggested me to interrupt the downloads. Ironically, that was the same Antivirus software which just a few seconds before gave me the green light on the website.
[caption id="attachment_1614" align="alignnone" width="3766"] vChain Integrity verification of Soft32.com PuTTY download[/caption]
What are the main takeaways?
1. When downloading a software be aware of malicious copies. Some are benign replicas, but others include malware or undesired software.
2. You cannot rely on how well a website scores on SEO to trust software
3. Digital certificates do not protect you from malicious software
How CodeNotary Chrome extension protects you from malware?
As I said at the beginning of my post, up until today there was no easy way for internet users to verify if a download had been injected with malicious code. Even manual checks on website reliability and digital signatures verifiability proved to be insufficient for this task. In fact, today it's quite common to find malware signed with official and legitimate digital certificates.
CodeNotary Download Integrity Verification extension for Chrome protects users from installing malware injected into any application, even famous ones, not that the level of notoriety matters. No manual verification, no searching the web, the extension automates everything for you.
If you are a software developer or a software publisher and you want to protect your customers from downloaded malware injected clones, start signing your code today with CodeNotary. The solution is always free for Open Source and Non-commercial projects.