The Internet has become the medium of choice for distributing software, updates, data, and most digital content. This raises a series of concerns; how does one know the digital content is correct and from the correct source. There are known instances of malware being attached to downloaded code and then being passed off as legitimate. Hash values can be used to verify the integrity of a file that is being downloaded. For reasons of integrity, whether to guard against malicious code or just accidental errors that will later affect production, all downloaded code should have its integrity verified before installation and use.
This requires designing in a checking mechanism, as integrity codes will need to be made available and a mechanism to verify them established. Simply attaching the hash values to the download is not sufficient, as this mechanism can be replicated by hackers who can recompute hash values after modifying an update. The hash values need to be made available in a manner that lets the user know they are from a valid source.
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Some download methods, such as Adobe Update and Windows Update, perform the hash check automatically as part of the update process. Using the vendor’s update methodology can help quite a bit, but verify before trusting. Contact the vendor and verify the safeguards are in place before trusting automatic update mechanisms.