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.

Perimeter

8/31/2009
08:30 AM
Rob Enderle
Rob Enderle
Commentary
50%
50%

Snow Leopard's Toothless Trojan Defense

Snow Leopard is the strongest business offering that Apple has ever fielded, but Apple remains in the dark ages when it comes to protection against malware and its unwillingness to work with third-party vendors to minimize the risk of bringing an Apple machine into a large business.

Snow Leopard is the strongest business offering that Apple has ever fielded, but Apple remains in the dark ages when it comes to protection against malware and its unwillingness to work with third-party vendors to minimize the risk of bringing an Apple machine into a large business.I've been suggesting that Apple's approach to security is as bad as Microsoft's was in the 1990s, but I was wrong because Microsoft at least worked with antivirus vendors to bridge the gap. Even so, the result was unacceptable and forced Microsoft to fix Windows 2000 and eventually launch a crippled Vista.

Whenever a vendor covers a known critical problem and hampers others from fixing the issue, the vendor not only runs the risk of being called negligent (with some rather severe financial risks), but it also faces the potential of massive failures as a result of that negligence. That, in turn, can lead to loss of customer trust. Microsoft's history proves that.

Until now, Apple didn't acknowledge a failure and likely could use the tobacco companies' defense of no-knowledge (which didn't hold up once internal documents were brought into evidence). But once the company provides an anti-malware (anti-Trojan) tool, it can no longer plead ignorance. This new feature proves it knows there is a threat, and Apple now can be challenged on how it is providing this protection.

In a world where aggressive anti-malware products have been relatively unsuccessful against polymorphic attacks, Apple's solution should have approached the industry norm of relying on a heuristic tool to identify hostile behavior. Polymorphic malware changes as it spreads, making it nearly impossible for a script-based tool to have much real impact, even if it had a massive script library that included logical variants.

What Apple delivered with Snow Leopard is a script-based tool that identifies -- but does not remove -- a few of the Trojans currently spreading on Macs. No heuristics -- just three scripts. This is like sending a soldier into battle with a bulletproof vest that only protects against lead bullets, and broadcasting, "We have bulletproof vests that only work with lead bullets!"

I'm not sure I can argue that this is better than nothing because the effort showcases the vulnerability without adequately mitigating it. In fact, you wouldn't even need a polymorphic attack: You could either slightly alter the virus or deliver it packed, where the lead element either deleted the script or disabled the anti-Trojan tool.

This may be Steve Jobs' reality distortion field working against him again. Apple's campaign against Windows Vista -- and soon Windows 7 -- is largely based on the premise that the Apple platform isn't just less vulnerable to malware, but that it is invulnerable. Jobs knows that arguing you break less often is far less powerful than saying you don't break at all, and this second message is what Apple is aggressively and successfully promoting.

But there is no such thing as an invulnerable product, and much of the perception that Apple is trying to maintain is based on the lack of visible attacks on Apple platform products. The majority of the market remains Windows, which makes the Mac a lower-value target.

Maintaining the impression of a less vulnerable product isn't that hard since Apple historically has actually had a less vulnerable offering. But after the recent Black Hat conference findings, the Mac OS is clearly not invulnerable.

So Apple had to do something, and it appears its executives (read: Steve Jobs) believed if they delivered a rudimentary tool, then they could showcase there is little need to take the threat seriously because they aren't. As a trusted vendor, they are spending trust to maintain the impression that the Mac is invulnerable.

In most known cases, the way malware generally spreads on the Mac is by tricking users to install the hostile code on their machines. This suggests the strongest defense is likely education, coupled with traffic monitoring in case someone still installs the malware, as well as email file-blocking for file types that could be carriers for these Trojans.

Given Apple's posture, putting additional anti-malware products on its Macs will not have the intended results. Even on Windows machines, where the threat is widely known, users turn their anti-malware software off. It's likely a Mac user who was led to believe he doesn't need it in the first place would turn the tool off in his machine, too.

This suggests a change in posture for how we think of PCs of any flavor. We typically assume they are not infected, but perhaps we should instead assume they are infected and apply external technologies to quarantine and assure they are clean -- using strong NAP (network apccess Protection) or NAC (network access control) at the core of the solution.

Wouldn't it be ironic if most ended up using Microsoft's NAP to keep Macs from spreading malware?

-- Rob Enderle is president and founder of Enderle Group. Special to Dark Reading.

 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/9/2020
Introducing 'Secure Access Service Edge'
Rik Turner, Principal Analyst, Infrastructure Solutions, Omdia,  7/3/2020
Russian Cyber Gang 'Cosmic Lynx' Focuses on Email Fraud
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  7/7/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
This report describes some of the latest attacks and threats emanating from the Internet, as well as advice and tips on how your organization can mitigate those threats before they affect your business. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-15001
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
An information leak was discovered on Yubico YubiKey 5 NFC devices 5.0.0 to 5.2.6 and 5.3.0 to 5.3.1. The OTP application allows a user to set optional access codes on OTP slots. This access code is intended to prevent unauthorized changes to OTP configurations. The access code is not checked when u...
CVE-2020-15092
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
In TimelineJS before version 3.7.0, some user data renders as HTML. An attacker could implement an XSS exploit with maliciously crafted content in a number of data fields. This risk is present whether the source data for the timeline is stored on Google Sheets or in a JSON configuration file. Most T...
CVE-2020-15093
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
The tough library (Rust/crates.io) prior to version 0.7.1 does not properly verify the threshold of cryptographic signatures. It allows an attacker to duplicate a valid signature in order to circumvent TUF requiring a minimum threshold of unique signatures before the metadata is considered valid. A ...
CVE-2020-15299
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
A reflected Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Vulnerability in the KingComposer plugin through 2.9.4 for WordPress allows remote attackers to trick a victim into submitting an install_online_preset AJAX request containing base64-encoded JavaScript (in the kc-online-preset-data POST parameter) that is execu...
CVE-2020-4173
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
IBM Guardium Activity Insights 10.6 and 11.0 does not set the secure attribute on authorization tokens or session cookies. Attackers may be able to get the cookie values by sending a http:// link to a user or by planting this link in a site the user goes to. The cookie will be sent to the insecure l...