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Lenovo installs adware on customer laptops and compromises ALL SSL.

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A pretty shocking thing came to light this evening – Lenovo is installing adware that uses a “man-in-the-middle” attack to break secure connections on affected laptops in order to access sensitive data and inject advertising. As if that wasn’t bad enough they installed a weak certificate into the system in a way that means affected users cannot trust any secure connections they make – TO ANY SITE.

We trust our hardware manufacturers to build products that are secure. In this current climate of rising cybercrime, if you cant trust your hardware manufacturer you are in a very difficult position. That manufacturer has a huge role to play in keeping you safe – from releasing patches to update software when vulnerabilities are found to behaving in a responsible manor with the data the collect and the privileged access they have to your hardware.

When bad guys are able to get into the supply chain and install malware it is devastating. Often users find themselves with equipment that is compromised and are unable to do anything about it. When malware is installed with the access a manufacturer has it buries itself deep inside the system often with a level of access that often takes it beyond the reach of antivirus or other countermeasures. This is why it is all the more disappointing – and shocking – to find a manufacturer doing this to its customers voluntarily.

Lenovo has partnered with a company called Superfish to install advertising software on it’s customer’s laptops. Under normal circumstances this would not be cause for concern. However Superfish’s software has quite a reputation. It is a notorious piece of “adware”, malicious advertising software. A quick search on Google reveals numerous links for pages containing everything from software to remove Superfish to consumers complaining about the presence of this malicious advertising tool.

Superfish Features:

  • Hijacks legitimate connections.
  • Monitors user activity.
  • Collects personal information and uploads it to it’s servers
  • Injects advertising in legitimate pages.
  • Displays popups with advertising software
  • Uses man-in-the-middle attack techniques to crack open secure connections.
  • Presents users with its own fake certificate instead of the legitimate site’s certificate.

This presents a security nightmare for affected consumers.

  1. Superfish replaces legitimate site certificates with its own in order to compromise the connections so it can install its adverts. This means that anyone affected by this adware cannot trust any secure connections they make.
  2. Users will not be notified if the legitimate site’s certificate has been tampered with, has expired or is bogus. In fact they now have to rely on Superfish to perform that check for them. Which it does not appear to do.
  3. Because Superfish uses the same certificate for every site it would be easy for another hostile actor to leverage this and further compromise the user’s connections.
  4. Superfish uses a deprecated SHA1 certificate. SHA1 has been replaced by SHA-256 because attacks against SHA1 are now feasible with ordinary computing hardware. This is insult on top of injury. Not only are they compromising peoples SSL connections but they are doing it in the most cavalier, insecure way possible.
  5. Even worse, they use crackable 1024-bit RSA!
  6. The user has to trust that this software which has compromised their secure connections is not tampering with the content, or stealing sensitive data such as usernames and passwords.
  7. If this software or any of its control infrastructure is compromised, an attacker would have complete and unrestricted access to affected customers banking sites, personal data and private messages.

Below is a photo showing Superfish on an affected laptop presenting a fake certificate instead of the legitimate “Bank of America” certificate. As you can see the user is presented with the fake Superfish certificate instead of the legitimate BoA certificate.


The only way a user would know this has happened is if they check the certificate’s details. Something most ordinary users are unlikely to do to a certificate which to all other appearances is valid and secure.

As mentioned above the certificate used by Superfish is a deprecated SHA1 certificate that uses 1024-bit RSA. This is particularly obnoxious because they have installed into the system certificates as an unrestricted trusted root certificate. To put it into context they gave it the same level of trust and authority as Microsoft’s own root certificate. Users affected by this can go to any site on the internet, and so long as it presents this certificate they will be fooled into thinking they have a secure connection. Since this certificate uses SHA1 it is feasible that an attacker could break it and hijack it. This means an attacker could create a bogus certificate that every one of these users would trust.


This is unbelievably ignorant and reckless of them. Its quite possibly the single worst thing I have seen a manufacturer do to its customer base. At this point I would consider every single one of these affected laptops to be potentially compromised and would reinstall them from scratch.

Lenvo’s response? Typical of companies caught with their hand in the cookie jar, they try to play it down while at the same time saying they have disabled it until it can be “fixed”:


However its hard to see how they could “fix” this software. It’s core functionality undermines the security of SSL rendering the last decade or so of work making the web secure completely irrelevant.


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