Today Scott Wolchok, Randy Yao, and Alex Halderman at the University of Michigan released a report analyzing Green Dam, the censorware program that the Chinese government just ordered installed on all new computers in China. The researchers found that Green Dam creates very serious security vulnerabilities on users’ computers.
The report starts with a summary of its findings:
The Chinese government has mandated that all PCs sold in the country must soon include a censorship program called Green Dam. This software monitors web sites visited and other activity on the computer and blocks adult content as well as politically sensitive material. We examined the Green Dam software and found that it contains serious security vulnerabilities due to programming errors. Once Green Dam is installed, any web site the user visits can exploit these problems to take control of the computer. This could allow malicious sites to steal private data, send spam, or enlist the computer in a botnet. In addition, we found vulnerabilities in the way Green Dam processes blacklist updates that could allow the software makers or others to install malicious code during the update process. We found these problems with less than 12 hours of testing, and we believe they may be only the tip of the iceberg. Green Dam makes frequent use of unsafe and outdated programming practices that likely introduce numerous other vulnerabilities. Correcting these problems will require extensive changes to the software and careful retesting. In the meantime, we recommend that users protect themselves by uninstalling Green Dam immediately.
The researchers have released a demonstration attack which will crash the browser of any Green Dam user. Another attack, for which they have not released a demonstration, allows any web page to seize control of any Green Dam user’s computer.
This is a serious blow to the Chinese government’s mandatory censorware plan. Green Dam’s insecurity is a show-stopper — no responsible PC maker will want to preinstall such dangerous software. The software can be fixed, but it will take a while to test the fix, and there is no guarantee that the next version won’t have other flaws, especially in light of the blatant errors in the current version.