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USENIX, The Advanced Computing Systems Association

1st USENIX Workshop on Hot Topics in Security

Pp. 37–43 of the Proceedings

Secure Software Updates: Disappointments and New Challenges

Anthony Bellissimo, John Burgess, and Kevin Fu, University of Massachusetts Amherst


A client can use a content distribution network to securely download software updates. These updates help to patch everyday bugs, plug security vulnerabilities, and secure critical infrastructure. Yet challenges remain for secure content distribution: many deployed software update mechanisms are insecure, and emerging technologies pose further hurdles for deployment. Our analysis of several popular software update mechanisms shows that deployed systems often rely on trusted networks to distribute critical software updates—despite the research progress in secure content distribution. We demonstrate how many deployed systems are susceptible to weak man-in-the-middle attacks. Furthermore, emerging technologies such as mobile devices, sensors, medical devices, and RFID tags present new challenges for secure software updates. Sporadic network connectivity and limited power, computation, and storage require a rethinking of traditional approaches for secure content distribution on embedded devices.
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Last changed: 4 Aug. 2006 ch