Is the Firefox 10 silent update feature a good thing?
Posted on 22 November 2011.
Mozilla is planning to implement silent background updates in the upcoming version of Firefox 10, which could be very bad news on the security front, according to Philip Lieberman, CEO of Lieberman Software.

While many IT security systems will have to be reconfigured to allow background updates to Firefox – which is not a good thing in the first place – there is danger that hackers could subvert the update system to allow them backdoor access to the users’ computer.

“Auto-updating can be a welcome feature for many computer users, but the feature does need to let the user know what is happening. Having your software quietly update in the background - presumably on a modular code basis - is not something that all IT security professionals will welcome,” he said.

“If, as I think appears quite likely, hackers start reverse engineering the Firefox background updating system – and remember we are talking about open source software here – then it is only a matter of time before they subvert this auto-updating mechanism to inject malware,” he added.

Lieberman went on to say that, at the MalCon security conference taking place in Mumbai later this week, well-known code cracker Peter Kleissner – who developed the Stoned bootkit back in 2008 – is scheduled to reveal the first Windows 8 bootkit.

This Stoned Lite bootkit will reportedly allow code loaded from the Master Boot Record on the PC’s hard disk to remain in place all the way through the Windows 8 boot-up and loading purpose.

It is coding technology like this, says Lieberman, which could allow the Firefox background updating system to be subverted, as he notes that we are talking about ultra low-level code that actually sits under the Windows 8 operating system itself.

“It doesn’t take a programming genius to figure out that - against the backdrop of a Windows 8 bootkit – it shouldn't be difficult to subvert a background updater for a piece of open source software like Firefox 10,” he said.

“Having a Windows 8 bootkit that exists is bad enough, but at least IT security professionals can set up their system controls to only allow access to the update processes when a suitable admin account logs in. This is the principle of admin accounts – which need to be protected using privileged account management technology – that ensures an extra layer of security on corporate systems,” he said.

“But with the prospect of having to allow for Firefox 10 updating itself silently and in the background, I suspect that many IT security professionals will raise the alarm. And for the very good reason that this is a recipe for a hacker security incursion in the background,” he added.


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