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London: Venafi, the Enterprise Key and Certificate Management (EKCM) solutions specialist, says that a digital certificate-spoofing trojan – spotted by fellow security vendor Malwarebytes and capable of spoofing legitimate digital certificates – is a worrying development.

The problem, says Calum MacLeod, Venafi EMEA Director, is that the cybercriminals behind this malware appear to have set up a bogus company to obtain legitimate digital trust certificates from Digicert, the privately held US certificate authority (CA).

“This allows the cybercriminals to slide an infected PDF file into a large number of organisations, since the certificate is the equivalent of the `baggage checked’ tag on luggage as it is carried by an airline to its destination. In this case, everyone in the electronic chain takes the certificate - as they should – at its face value and the legitimate certificate authenticates the trojan” he said.

“The fact that the certificate is accepted at face value - while correct in the CA schema – indicates not that the schema itself is structurally flawed, but rather that the management of that trust instrument is flawed.

“It is management and control flaws like this that undermine confidence in the structural status quo of Internet security – and this is not good for anyone, or any user, of the World Wide Web, email and other forms of IP communications.”

These attacks expose that third-party trust providers are high-value targets for cybercriminals. Organisations know that Certificate Authorities (CAs) can be compromised or spoofed, and that these compromises can lead to devastating cyber attacks.

The risk of certificate and CA compromise is no longer hypothetical, and these events highlight the inability of businesses and governments to control trust. Increased dependence on encryption and digital certificates—critical trust instruments—requires effective controls. Yet most organisations have little idea how many keys and certificates exist within their networks, on mobile devices and in the cloud, where they are deployed, who has access to them or how they are managed.

Organisations that fail to deploy and manage these trust instruments subject themselves to data breaches, audit failures and unplanned outages, with increasing frequency and cost.