Every Signature is Broken: On the Insecurity of Microsoft Office’s OOXML Signatures


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Research Hub C: Sichere Systeme

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RC 7: Building Secure Systems


Microsoft Office is one of the most widely used applications for office documents. For documents of prime importance, such as contracts and invoices, the content can be signed to guarantee authenticity and integrity. Since 2019, security researchers have uncovered attacks against the integrity protection in other office standards like PDF and ODF. Since Microsoft Office documents rely on different specifications and processing rules, the existing attacks are not applicable.

We are the first to provide an in-depth analysis of Office Open XML (OOXML) Signatures, the Ecma/ISO standard that all Microsoft Office applications use. Our analysis reveals major discrepancies between the structure of office documents and the way digital signatures are verified. These discrepancies lead to serious security flaws in the specification and in the implementation. As a result, we discovered five new attack classes. Each attack allows attackers to modify the content in signed documents, while the signatures are still displayed as valid.

We tested the attacks against different Microsoft Office versions on Windows and macOS, as well as against OnlyOffice Desktop on Windows, macOS and Linux. All tested Office versions are vulnerable. On macOS, we could reveal a surprising result: although Microsoft Office indicates that the document is protected by a signature, the signature is not validated. The attacks’ impact is alarming: attackers can arbitrarily manipulate the displayed content of a signed document, and victims are unable to detect the tampering. Even worse, we present a universal signature forgery attack that allows the attacker to create an arbitrary document and apply a signature extracted from a different source, such as an ODF document or a SAML token. For the victim, the document is displayed as validly signed by a trusted entity.

We propose countermeasures to prevent such issues in the future. During a coordinated disclosure, Microsoft acknowledged and awarded our research with a bug bounty.


Software Security