Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

8/9/2011
05:36 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Anatomy Of A Mac APT Attack

Mac users might not have a lot of exploits to worry about, but their lack of security worries makes them an APT attacker's dream come true

You've heard it all before: If you're a Mac, then you're immune from most of the latest security threats. That has led some organizations worried about cyberespionage-type attacks to consider ditching their target-prone Windows machines for their Mac iOS counterparts, according to a team of researchers who spoke at Black Hat USA last week in Las Vegas.

Click here for more of Dark Reading's Black Hat articles.

Mac OS X might have little or no exploits aimed at it right now, but security worry-free Mac users are still susceptible to targeted attacks -- especially ones like advanced persistent threat (APT) that use social engineering, according to the researchers. A recent report by ESET found that while 52 percent of Windows users feel "extremely" or "very" vulnerable to cybercrime, only 20 percent of Mac users feel that way.

"Mac users are trained to feel safe, and they have a long history of not being exploited by attackers. They get used to clicking through unsigned apps," said Paul Youn, a researcher with iSec Partners.

And that's where the Mac's downfall could be when it comes to a targeted attack like an APT.

Youn, along with fellow iSec researchers Alex Stamos, Tom Daniels, Aaron Grattafiori, and BJ Orvis, decided to analyze just how a Mac could sustain a targeted attack by an APT attacker. "The reason we're doing this talk is because, in part, of our incident response on APT, [clients] said, 'Maybe we should switch to Macs,'" Stamos said in the team's presentation. "They asked us what would that mean for their ability to withstand those attacks. We don't know. There has been no research into this [before]."

Macs, which hold about 6 to 8 percent of the desktop market share, overall suffer fewer threats and attacks, and no popular crimeware kits are available for Mac OS 10. "There are a lot of things that makes Mac users much safer than Windows users," Youn said. So far, Mac attacks have mainly been social engineering-based, such as the recent Mac Defender fake antivirus scam, he said.

But the Mac OS has plenty of vulnerabilities that are ripe for attackers' picking, even if they haven't been exploited yet, according to the researchers. A 2008 IBM X-Force report showed that OS 10 had 14.3 vulnerabilities -- more than any other operating system -- and Apple's latest OS X patch included 39 CVEs. "They may be safer, but that doesn't mean the OS is more secure," Youn said. "Malware can exist on an OS 10, and Mac users may be susceptible to social engineering.

APT attackers don't care what OS a target is running: "That the typical Mac user doesn't get hit often has no bearing on the APT," he said. "There are plenty of vulnerabilities that could be weaponized to exploit Mac users if someone bothered to do it."

And unlike with Windows, few tools are available for conducting a forensics investigation on Macs. Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser at Sophos Canada, says even if you want to investigate a breach on a Mac platform, that can be difficult. "OS 10 is just starting to get tools," he says. "There's a lack of mature tools for Mac OS X forensics."

InfoSec Partners' Stamos says the key with APT-style attacks is being able to see and analyze what has hit the victim machines. "There's no good way to check the integrity of a Mac when it gets hit," he said.

Among the weaknesses in the Mac that could be used for a targeted attack are the lack of a standardized authentication mechanism; authentication weaknesses in AFP, OpenDirectory, and ServerAdmin; and that Bonjour can make local DNS poisoning a fairly simple attack, the researchers said. Local and network privilege escalation is easy to accomplish, they said.

A copy of their presentation, "Macs In the Age Of APT," is available here (PDF) for download.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
DevSecOps: The Answer to the Cloud Security Skills Gap
Lamont Orange, Chief Information Security Officer at Netskope,  11/15/2019
Attackers' Costs Increasing as Businesses Focus on Security
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  11/15/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Navigating the Deluge of Security Data
In this Tech Digest, Dark Reading shares the experiences of some top security practitioners as they navigate volumes of security data. We examine some examples of how enterprises can cull this data to find the clues they need.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-6852
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-20
A CWE-200: Information Exposure vulnerability exists in Modicon Controllers (M340 CPUs, M340 communication modules, Premium CPUs, Premium communication modules, Quantum CPUs, Quantum communication modules - see security notification for specific versions), which could cause the disclosure of FTP har...
CVE-2019-6853
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-20
A CWE-79: Failure to Preserve Web Page Structure vulnerability exists in Andover Continuum (models 9680, 5740 and 5720, bCX4040, bCX9640, 9900, 9940, 9924 and 9702) , which could enable a successful Cross-site Scripting (XSS attack) when using the products web server.
CVE-2013-2092
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-20
Cross-site Scripting (XSS) in Dolibarr ERP/CRM 3.3.1 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML in functions.lib.php.
CVE-2013-2093
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-20
Dolibarr ERP/CRM 3.3.1 does not properly validate user input in viewimage.php and barcode.lib.php which allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary commands.
CVE-2015-3166
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-20
The snprintf implementation in PostgreSQL before 9.0.20, 9.1.x before 9.1.16, 9.2.x before 9.2.11, 9.3.x before 9.3.7, and 9.4.x before 9.4.2 does not properly handle system-call errors, which allows attackers to obtain sensitive information or have other unspecified impact via unknown vectors, as d...