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Web Security, Privacy & Commerce, 2nd Edition by Gene Spafford, Simson Garfinkel

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Chapter 22. Code Signing and Microsoft’s Authenticode

Code signing is a technique for signing executable programs with digital signatures. Code signing is designed to improve the reliability of software distributed over the Internet by making it possible to detect very minor alterations to programs. Code signing is also designed to combat the problem of malicious programs, including computer viruses and Trojan horses.

This chapter describes the mechanics of code signing. For a discussion of why code signing might not provide the degree of safety its backers hope for, see Chapter 12.

Why Code Signing?

Walk into a computer store and buy a copy of Microsoft Windows, and you can be pretty sure the box contains a genuine CD-ROM with a computer operating system written by the Redmond software giant. The program, after all, comes shrinkwrapped in a box, with a difficult-to-forge security hologram seal. Inside the box is a CD-ROM that may include its own hologram. You have great confidence that your CD-ROM or floppy disks have the same program as every other CD-ROM or floppy disk sold in every other Windows box. Presumably, the software was checked at the factory, so you have every reason to believe that you’ve got a legitimate and unaltered copy.

The same can’t be said for software downloaded over the Internet. When Microsoft released its 1,264,640-byte Service Pack 1 for Windows 95, the only way to be sure that you had a legitimate and unaltered copy was to download it directly from Microsoft’s ...

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