Paul Watson, PC Technician Saturday, October 17th 2009
What’s The Big Deal About Signed Drivers
For some users, the subtlety of having a signed driver might escape them. For Microsoft, producing a signed driver is moving toward the R-word – requirement. Now don’t get me wrong; there is still such a thing as an unsigned driver, but unsigned drivers represent (as far as Microsoft is concerned) a potential hazard that computer users and system administrators alike need to watch out for.
What exactly is a “signed driver?” A signed driver is an assurance that a downloadable driver was produced by what Microsoft terms “a legitimate publisher.” If you’re planning on installing unsigned drivers for Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008, you’ll need to have administrator privileges. This is (presumably) to cut down on the ability of the end user to install – either purposely or inadvertently – potentially rogue drivers that could cause problems for a system.
Also, if you’re loading kernel-mode drivers on 64-bit versions of Windows Vista or Window Server 2008, these require Kernel Mode Code Signing (KMCS) to load.
Any driver that is hoping for the Microsoft “seal of approval” – that is, one that gets the Windows Logo mark – will need to be signed. Microsoft will not approve any unsigned drivers for use with the Windows Logo or Windows 7/Windows Vista-compatible programs.
At some point, these requirements may cause problems for users and/or administrators, but Microsoft’s toughened stance on Windows drivers stems from its less than pleasant experience with the Windows Vista release. Although Vista is about to be replaced with what promises to be a more robust, stable product, there are many hardware manufacturers that never produced a Vista-compatible hardware driver for their products. That situation left many Windows users in the lurch – not being able to upgrade because they would lose the use of critical hardware – or being forced to upgrade hardware for want of a working driver.
Microsoft is determined not to let third-party manufacturers sabotage the release of Windows 7 in the same way, so if nothing else, users should expect stronger driver requirements and a better complement of Windows drivers right out of the box on October 22.
Photo Credit: Microsoft