Dell acknowledges a root certificate it installed on its laptops was a bad idea and is pushing a patch to permanently remove it.
In a blog post company spokesperson Laura Thomas says eDellRoot was installed as a support tool to make it faster and easier for customers to service the devices. But some of those customers discovered the certificate and recognized it as a serious security threat.
“We have posted instructions to permanently remove the certificate from your system here,” Thomas writes. We will also push a software update starting on November 24 that will check for the certificate, and if detected remove it. Commercial customers who reimaged their systems without Dell Foundation Services are not affected by this issue. Additionally, the certificate will be removed from all Dell systems moving forward.”
She doesn’t detail which machine models or how many total devices are affected.
Dell Foundation Services is a management package that makes it easier to set up memory improvements and fix minor software bugs on Dell computers.
For those who don’t want to use the pushed patch, instructions for removing eDellRoot manually is a 17-step process that takes up 11 Word document pages, including screenshots. The patch - Click Here – can also be downloaded.
The problem, according to a Dell customer who discovered it, programmer Kevin Hicks, is that the certificate could be used to sign malicious code, certifying that it is safe to install when it’s not.
“For those that are unfamiliar with how this works,” he wrote on Reddit, “a network attacker could use this CA to sign his or her own fake certificates for use on real websites and an affected Dell user would be none the wiser unless they happened to check the website's certificate chain.”
Hicks says he came across the certificate by chance. “I stumbled upon the bad certificate while investigating an unrelated problem that required me to check my certificate store, where this unfortunate surprise was waiting for me,” he says.
Hicks and others who discovered eDellRoot say its potential impact was similar to that of Superfish, the adware that was installed on new Lenovo computers earlier this year. It proxied HTTPS connections to Web sites, making it a potential spot for attackers to perform man-in-the-middle attacks against the affected machines.
Installing eDellRoot was a security lapse by Dell, the spokeswoman writes, admitting that it “unintentionally introduced a security vulnerability. … Customer security and privacy is a top concern and priority for Dell; we deeply regret that this has happened and are taking steps to address it.”