Thursday, September 04, 2008

Chrome's Unusual Installation Location: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

I -- and many other folks -- have noticed that Google Chrome installs only for a single user, and does so in a way that does not require administrative privileges to run the installer.

Basically, it just drops its files into a subdirectory of the user's home directory, places its shortcuts in the user's specific Start Menu folder, Desktop folder, etc., and arranges for its GoogleUpdate.exe helper app to launch from Windows/CurrentVersion/Run under HKEY_CURRENT_USER, rather than HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE.

This is an unusual pattern for a Windows installer, almost certainly rigged in order to allow minimal-privilege user accounts on corporate networks to install and run Chrome ... under the radar of IT or management policy, if need be.

The question is whether this is inherently a security problem.

On one hand, I've read posts pointing out that this setup leaves the executable vulnerable to other executables that run with the user's permissions. This means another app could replace Chrome with a compromised Chrome, and the user would never know. At the same time, if Chrome can install, then any other malware could install itself the same way -- set itself up to launch under HKCU/.../CurrentVersion/Run, and sit in the background doing anything it wanted (like listen to keystrokes for another HWND). Then again, being in the user's browser might make snarfing credentials and scripting their use (or taking advantage of an auth cookie being present) a lot easier. The point is that a traditional executable under Program Files should be less vulnerable -- a nonprivileged user account can't rewrite those files.

On the other hand ... this is not terribly unlike the install/run routine on *nix servers. If I'm a "regular" user, I'm not installing to /usr/bin, I'm just untarring in a local directory, possibly building, and then running the binary. Of course a user doing this is likely more sophisticated than general Windows users, and fewer *nix end users means less malware at the moment.


VRBones said...

This is very bad for corporations with roaming profiles. Why continually send ~200Mb up and down the wire every time you log on / off ?

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