Dell computers shipping with potentially dangerous root certificate authority

The threat posed by the pre-installed CA is being likened to Superfish

At least some Dell laptops are shipping with a trusted root certificate authority pre-installed, something that those who discovered the CA are comparing to the Superfish adware installed on Lenovo machines that left them open to man-in the-middle attacks.

Called eDellRoot, the trusted root CA comes as part of the standard software load on new Dell machines. A Reddit contributor who uses rotocowboy for a screen name says the implications could be dire. “For those that are unfamiliar with how this works,” he writes, “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. This CA could also be used to sign code to run on people's machines, but I haven't tested this out yet.”

The eDellRoot certificate is intended for all purposes, meaning its privileges are more extensive than a DigiCert certificate also installed on the machine being examined by another Dell owner, according to programmer Joe Nord, who also owns a Dell. “I'm having a tough time coming up with a good reason that Dell Computer Corporation needs to be a trusted root CA on my computer,” Nord writes in his blog.

Dell hasn’t responded yet to a request for an explanation of eDellRoot and whether customers should worry. This story will be updated when it does.

However, the DellCares Twitter account responded to rotocowboy promising to check into his concerns. “We understand your situation. We will reach out to our product group team and let you know as to why eDellroot is present,” the tweet says.

It’s not clear whether the CA was installed by Dell or by a partner allowed to pre-install software on the machine or by an attacker who has infiltrated Dell’s production line.

Nord’s post also includes a screenshot of information about the certificate that says, “You have a private key that corresponds to this certificate.” Nord writes: “As a user computer, I should NEVER have a private key that corresponds to a root CA. Only the certificate issuing computer should have a private key and that computer should be ... very well protected!”

He writes that it’s impossible to tell whether Dell itself installed the certificate. “Root certificates are always self-signed, so all I really know is that eDellRoot says eDellRoot is legit,” Nord says. “Where it breaks down is that the private key IS PRESENT on my computer and that means ... bad.”

Nord and rotocowboy both liken the potential danger of eDellRoot to the Superfish adware that was discovered on new Lenovo computers earlier this year. Superfish proxied HTTPS connections between Web sites and users’ machines, which allowed insertion of data into any page the machine was downloading. In addition, Superfish used the same certificate across all Lenovo machines and the private key for the certificate was easy to capture.

Mikko Hypponen, Chief Research Officer for F-Secure, posted on Twitter linking Superfish to eDellRoot: “Note: Dell created their #eDellRoot certificate six months after Lenovo's Superfish scandal hit the news. No lessons learned.”

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Dell

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Greene

Network World
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?