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Some Security Software Can Make Computers Less Safe

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 09:25AM

Security software like antiviruses and parental controls are meant to keep our computers safe, but researchers at Concordia University have found that some are actually making us more vulnerable. This is because of how the software sets up a TLS proxy to filter out unwanted content.

To keep a computer from visiting websites that are either dangerous or something a parent does not want a child to see, a piece of software can be installed that will monitor this traffic and block those sites. In some cases the software works by checking the domain name, but in other cases it establishes a proxy and checks the certificate for the website. As a browser will also check such certificates, the software has its own to pass on to the browser, and this is where the vulnerability lies. Because the browser is left to assume the software's certificate is valid, anything with that certificate will get through, and that piece of software can be vulnerable to other attacks. For example, if the certificate the software uses is pre-generated and static, then every user can be attacked the same way.

The researchers tested 14 pieces of software, and found each one reduced the TLS security of the system they were installed on. In one case, an antivirus left users open to attack because after its license expired it ceased to check certificates, and also stopped receiving updates, and one of the parental control applications left its pre-generated certificate on the computer, even after it was uninstalled. This means that any traffic that used that certificate would be seen as trusted by the computer.

The researchers have contacted and reported their findings to the software manufacturers, so hopefully these issues can be addressed. They also suggest new guidelines for handling TLS proxies be developed, so as to prevent vulnerabilities from being added when a user is trying to, or required to secure their computer.

Source: Concordia University

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