Mac OS X: Snow Leopard could level security playing field

Discussion in 'The Backstage' started by geochem1st, Aug 27, 2009.

  1. geochem1st

    geochem1st V.I.P. Member

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    Friday's release of the new version of the Mac OS, dubbed Snow Leopard, could include some security features that would make it secure, or at least push it closer to the level of security that Vista and Windows 7 have, experts said this week.

    Contrary to popular Mac fanboy belief, Macintosh is not more secure from a software standpoint than modern Windows; it's merely safer to use because malware writers prefer to target the platform with the biggest install base, according to Charlie Miller and Dino Dai Zovi, co-authors of The Mac Hacker's Handbook, which [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Mac-Hackers-Handbook-Charles-Miller/dp/0470395362"]came out this spring[/ame].

    "Apple hasn't implemented all the security features that Vista has," Miller said. "They made some improvements in Leopard, but they are still behind."

    If there is any truth to rumors circulating about Snow Leopard, the operating system security playing field could become more level as of this weekend and Mac users will really have something to brag about.

    First off, a screen shot published on the Mac Security Blog of Intego on Tuesday appears to show a security feature supposedly in Snow Leopard that looks like it is detecting a Trojan in a disk image being downloaded via Safari. The post cites unnamed reports about an anti-malware feature being added.

    "If it's true, it will mark a fundamental change in that Apple will be admitting that their operating system is as susceptible to malware as other operating systems," Miller said.

    CNET's review of Snow Leopard posted late on Wednesday says that File Quarantine, first introduced in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, has been refined in Snow Leopard. File Quarantine checks for known malware signatures and displays an alert dialog if it finds a known offender and will be automatically updated via Mac OS X's software update as new malware signatures are found in the wild, the review says.

    It's unclear whether rumors are true that Snow Leopard includes several internal features designed to prevent attacks that Vista and Windows 7 have, known as Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) and Data Execution Prevention (DEP) on that platform.

    By randomizing the location of key pieces of data, ASLR makes it much more difficult for attackers to predict where data is going to be in order to execute their code or the code resident in the process. For exploit code that gets past the ASLR barrier, DEP will try to block it from running, recognizing that it is data and not a legitimate code.

    "If you have both, it's hard for an exploit to get around it. Leopard has some ASLR but everything is not randomized and Leopard has no DEP," Miller said. "Things could change significantly for the Mac if they do a good job...That was my main gripe with it."

    In June, Dai Zovi reported on a new local privilege escalation vulnerability researchers had discovered that gives local root access on Mac OS X Tiger and Leopard. He offered up a wish list for Snow Leopard that included: real" ASLR; "full use of hardware-enforced Non-eXecutable memory (NX);" default 64-bit native execution for security-sensitive processes; sandbox policies for Safari, Mail.app, and third-party applications (akin to what Chrome has); and Mandatory code signing for kernel extensions.

    Apple's Mac OS X security page makes reference to offering sandboxing, Library Randomization, and Execute Disable, but there are no details.
    An Apple spokeswoman did not follow up on an e-mail request seeking an interview for this story.

    The Snow Leopard Web site says it will offer protection against some common types of heap buffer overflow exploits but not new types of such memory overflow exploits, according to Dai Zovi.

    The security level in Leopard falls in between Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Vista, he said. If Snow Leopard has full ASLR and DEP, it would bring its security close to the level of Vista, he added.

    While adding full ASLR and DEP to Snow Leopard will boost the operating system's defenses against targeted attacks, the Mac OS software arguably has more holes that malware can slip through, Miller said. "It would be fair to say that Mac has more bugs, but it's impossible to measure," he said.

    Market pressure has been missing
    In this sense, Microsoft has benefited greatly from the plague of security holes in early Windows versions. Those problems led the company to embark on a quasi-religious conversion in 2002 with Bill Gates launching the Trustworthy Computing initiative and setting security as a top priority for the company. Its Software Development Lifecycle (SDL) program--designed to build security into the software--has become the model for the industry.

    Microsoft puts "much more effort into auditing their code, the entire SDL process, developer training, automated source code scanners, and hiring external penetration testers," Dai Zovi said.

    So far, Apple hasn't felt that kind of market pressure to improve Mac security, largely because malware writers have ignored it, so its secure software development process isn't nearly as developed or mature as Microsoft's, the security researchers said.

    "Microsoft has had a head start. That's why they had ASLR and DEP first," Miller said. "It's not because they're geniuses. They just started caring about it sooner."

    "These things go lock in step and it doesn't make sense for businesses to expend a ton of resources when the threat is not there," said Dai Zovi. "So far, Apple has been keeping up pretty well with the level of threats in the wild."

    As far as security goes, market share is a double-edged sword. As the Mac operating system gets more popular, the amount of malware targeting it is growing.

    The Mac has only about 5 percent market share worldwide (nearly half is in the U.S. alone), compared with nearly 95 percent for Windows, according to market statistics provider Net Applications. But the Mac share is rising, from 3.73 percent to 4.86 percent in less than a year, the firm says.

    In the meantime, more and more Mac malware is appearing. Earlier this week, TrendMicro reported that it found a new variant of the JAHLAV family of Trojans that pose as pirated versions of legitimate applications, modify a computer's domain name system (DNS) settings and enabling successful phishing attacks and redirects to sites hosting malware. Earlier versions of the Trojan masqueraded as versions of QuickTime, but this one passes as Foxit Reader or an antivirus program.

    Some malware is written for both Windows and Mac platforms and downloads the correct version depending on the browser. Last week, Symantec reported that sites purporting to show streams of new movies were actually feeding up a DNS-changing Trojan instead called OSX.RSPlug.A for Mac and Trojan.Fakeavalert for Windows. Last month, a McAfee blog post wrote about the OSX/Puper.a Trojan that is downloaded onto Mac systems when users download what they think is a video player.

    ZDNet's Zero Day blog has covered a number of Mac malware threats this year alone. In January, Intego, which has been tracking Mac malware for several years, discovered a Mac OS X Trojan circulating in pirated copies of Apple's iWork '09 software found on BitTorrent trackers and other sites. Symantec researchers in April linked malware found in bogus copies of iWork '09 and Adobe Photoshop CS4 to what they said could be the first Mac OS X botnet launching denial-of-service attacks. And in May, a new e-mail worm dubbed OSX/Tored-A targeting the Mac was uncovered, although it was not found to be spreading in the wild.

    "The frequency is increasing" for Mac threats in the wild, said Dai Zovi. "Still, there are only a handful of threats; no where near what Windows users face."

    In addition to considering how buggy the software is, how secure the operating system code is, and whether malware writers are creating viruses and Trojans for the platform, another factor in play is how likely Mac users are to be duped into visiting a malicious site, opening a malicious e-mail attachment, and downloading a fake file.

    Most Mac users seem to take pride in their supposed invulnerability, so one would think that they are less cautious in their surfing activities. But it's hard to tell.

    "No computer or operating system is more or less secure when it comes to users being tricked into downloading something," Miller said.
    Snow Leopard could level security playing field | InSecurity Complex - CNET News


    And related:
    Mac flaw could let hackers get scrambled data | Technology | Reuters

    "SECURITY LOOPHOLES
    Apple is the fourth-largest U.S. PC maker and continues to take market share. It held 9 percent of the U.S. market in the second quarter, according to Gartner.

    "They are advancing. Our concern is that they are just not advancing as fast as they are gaining market share," said Charlie Miller, co-author of "The Mac Hacker's Handbook."

    They said the Mac's operating system will be an easier nut to crack once hackers start to focus on it. That is because it has a lot more code in it than Windows, leaving room for more vulnerabilities and bugs that hackers can exploit."
     
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  2. Jason

    Jason Senior Member

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    I am beyond grateful for
    [​IMG]
     
  3. gui524

    gui524 Senior Member

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    I use both Windows ( XP ) and a Macbook Pro, I must say I've never had a single virus-related problem with the OSX, my father's notebook has Vista installed and I thought it was as insecure as a XP ... nice surprise !! I think I'll install W7 in my PC ... but does it handles XP programs ??
     
  4. BUDOKAI

    BUDOKAI Senior Member

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    im getting this tommorrow
     
  5. Sinmastah

    Sinmastah Epi Verification Expert V.I.P. Member

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    Windows 7 will do run any program windows Vista will. So if your XP program runs on Vista, it will run on 7.
     
  6. PraXis

    PraXis V.I.P. Member

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    Macs are overpriced and overrated.

    Flame on!
     
  7. Jason

    Jason Senior Member

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    Overpriced, sure. So is the Windows operating system, if you ask me.
     
  8. Sinmastah

    Sinmastah Epi Verification Expert V.I.P. Member

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    Meh, I got Windows 7 professional for free from the university, no complaints here.

    [​IMG]
     
  9. PraXis

    PraXis V.I.P. Member

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    People pay for OS's?
     
  10. return of the mac

    return of the mac Banned

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    Maybe so ,but they are very nice none the less. Once you go Mac you'll never look back. :naughty:
     
  11. Sinmastah

    Sinmastah Epi Verification Expert V.I.P. Member

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    I've used plenty of macs, don't understand the hype.
     
  12. PraXis

    PraXis V.I.P. Member

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    I only build PC's, so you can't pay me to use a Mac.
     
  13. Jason

    Jason Senior Member

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    Well, MS has been making a list of those who DON'T for at least 3-4 years now. I predict something similar to what the RIAA has been doing in a couple years.

    I guess that explains why you like Windows so much though, you're not paying for it! I'm thinking you might have a different attitude if you had to pay $300 each time they released a new version for an OS that is full of bugs and exploits and requires major hardware upgrades just to run as smoothly as the previous version. Versus, of course, someone like me who (legally) runs a totally free OS with almost no issues. WOULD you pay $300 for it? That's the real question here.

    Yeah, you can sit there and pirate Win7, Photoshop, Premiere, Calkewalk, and whatever you want... but by doing that, you've pretty much said that the software isn't worth the asking price to you. Same deal with Windows, obviously.
     
  14. Sinmastah

    Sinmastah Epi Verification Expert V.I.P. Member

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    Computers come with Operating systems on them, you pay for them that way, but it doesn't really seem like it. Wouldn't say there are a lot of bugs with this win 7 because of the extensive beta testing. I guess they wanted 7 to stay for a while instead of Vista, and how short it's life was.
     
  15. PraXis

    PraXis V.I.P. Member

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    My W7 is free (RC). When it's released, I get it cheap from my college.
     
  16. Jason

    Jason Senior Member

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    Yeah, but if a certain someone is saying that he builds PCs, they obviously are NOT coming with the OS.

    And as far as bugs go, there's ALWAYS extensive beta testing... that doesn't mean there won't be bugs... vulnerabilities will be found because, as has been said before, MS's user base is like 80-90% of all PCs... People writing exploits aren't going to bother with the other OSs, for the most part.
     
  17. Sinmastah

    Sinmastah Epi Verification Expert V.I.P. Member

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    Eh, so far Win 7 (Not RC) has no bugs I have found. Will people write viruses for it? Of course, it's part of life.
     
  18. stonevibe

    stonevibe Senior Member

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    My copy is on order and should be delivered by tomorrow. In over 20 years of Mac use I have never had a virus!
     
  19. PraXis

    PraXis V.I.P. Member

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    Because it took them 20 years to get a 10% market share! :laugh2:
     
  20. geochem1st

    geochem1st V.I.P. Member

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    NOT because it was an inferior system, but because Micro$oft strong armed the IBM pc clone industry into installing their OS onto every PC sold.
     

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