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18 March 2010, 14:59

Mac OS X: "safer, but less secure" - Update

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Mac OS X Logo Security expert Charlie Miller intends to disclose a potentially record-breaking 20 zero day security holes in Apple's Mac OS X in one fell swoop. The details are to be revealed in his presentation at the Canadian CanSecWest security conference next week. Miller, who is already known for having discovered a number of bugs in Mac OS X, talked with heise Security, The H's German associates, about his new findings and about the security of Apple's operating system beforehand.

The approximately 20 zero-day holes are contained in closed source Apple products, said Miller. "OS X has a large attack surface consisting of open source components (i.e. webkit, libz, etc), closed source 3rd party components (Flash), and closed source Apple components (Preview, mdnsresponder, etc). Bugs in any of these types of components can lead to remote compromise", he emphasised.

Miller discovered the new vulnerabilities by fuzzing, a process which involves bombarding an application's input channels with as much corrupted data as possible. His presentation is subtitled: "An analysis of fuzzing 4 products with 5 lines of Python". The expert explained: "The talk is about what you really find when you fuzz and it tries to draw conclusions about what to expect in the future when you fuzz a mature product." Parts of the presentation apparently consist of statistics, for instance, about which percentage of flaws causes crashes, and which percentage can be exploited remotely.

In cracking competitions, it is regularly the Apple systems which are cracked first by attackers. Miller has argued for some time that Mac OS X is among the comparatively insecure operating systems. Apple users are currently "safer, but less secure", he said. While malware authors don't concern themselves with the relatively small number of Apple users, Miller said, the size of the market share is no longer a valid argument in targeted attacks such as operation Aurora: "Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town."

In Miller's experience, Apple's position in terms of security continues to be quite relaxed: "They sell lots of computers and nobody doesn't buy Apple computers because of a perceived lack of security. So in their minds, they don't have a security problem until it affects their bottom line, which hasn't been the case, yet", said the expert.

Update: Miller has clarified that he does not intend to reveal the details of the twenty vulnerabilities at CanSecWest, but will show only how he found them.

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