3/16/2009
10:10 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary

Reality Check: Apple's OS X, Safari Security

More security researchers are realizing that when it comes to Apple software security: there is no there "there."



More security researchers are realizing that when it comes to Apple software security: there is no there "there."I've noted numerous times that Apple's software security is lacking, especially when it comes to enterprise-class security. In fact, not much has changed since I penned this post in January 2008. Things have probably gotten worse for Apple users, in fact.

And, if you're a fanboy and starting to get your knickers in a knot, please be aware that this post is being written on a Mac Pro, and I own three Macs that I love, and use every day.

I'm just not thrilled with Apple proffering more marketing savvy when it comes to security than providing real security.

Consider security researcher and co-author of The Mac Hacker's Handbook Dino Dai Zovi's demonstration at the SOURCE Boston conference last week.

According to this story, he was able to crack the Mac "by gaining access to its root memory. A few lines of arbitrary code will enable any attacker to take over a computer, establish a TCP connection and download additional malicious code."

He's also quoted in the story as saying "the Mac OS X operating system lacks sufficient memory corruption defense features built into its internal coding."

All of that means it's too easy to mess with system memory to either cause a crash, or inject malicious software.

OK, so you don't want to take one person's word for it? Even if he happens to be, as Dai Zovi is, a software security expert with years of experience from both @stake and Matasano Security?

How about this quote, from Charlie Miller, who cracked Mac OS X within minutes at last year's PWN2OWN Contest, and said this about Apple's Safari browser security:

"It's an easy target," Miller stated, "Apple's products are really friendly to users, and Safari is designed to handle anything, including all kinds of file formats. With a lot of functionality comes the increased chance of bugs. The more complex software is, the less secure it is." He also added that what makes Safari an even more attractive target is the fact that it runs on Mac OS X, which he states lacks several security features that Windows Vista and Windows 7 do have, such as address space randomization. "Put Safari atop Mac OS X, and the target's too good to pass up," he said.

Translate: Too good to pass up. Result: "Easy, target-rich environment."

At this year's PWN2OWN contest, which kicks off March 18, we will see Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer 8 all face off in the challenge.

I've no doubt Safari will fall, quickly.

Yet, most of the Mac folks I know don't give security a second, or third thought on their systems. They buy the marketing. I don't.

It's not just Apple's lack of attention to software security, it's attitudes like this, when Charles Edge wanted to present data on vulnerabilities in Apple's FileVault disk encryption. Or how about the time the company acted very weird around an Apple tech support page that -- drum roll please, recommended users install antivirus software.

I'm convinced that Mac's aren't targeted much because of their very (relatively) low market share. Not because they're so hard to hack.

That's security by obscurity. And that's just not good enough for me.

It's time Apple put as much shine on its security efforts as it does into its marketing.

 

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