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Safari browser allows Mac to be easily taken over at hacker convention, Vista, Ubuntu machines survive the day

It has not been a good couple weeks for Apple and Safari.  First Opera knocked it from its position as sole 100 percent compatible Acid3 browser.  Then it tried to force iTunes users to unintentionally download the browser as part of an iTunes update, which included a pre-checked install option for Safari.  The move was met with broad criticism, including from Mozilla's CEO, who commented that Apple was bordering "on malware distribution practices."  Finally, Safari users who updated to v3.1 reported many bugs and crashes.

Now the browser, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs once called the "
most innovative browser in the world and the most powerful browser in the world", has had more bad news.  At the CanSecWest Show, an annual security conference, it was found that the Safari browser was surprisingly insecure, allowing successful attacks on Mac computers.

CanSecWest sponsors an annual hacking contest, which seeks to recognize vulnerabilities and give a comparative analysis of OS security.  A Mac, Vista machine, and Ubuntu box survived the first round, which only allowed pre-authentication attacks – a successful attack would have yielded a $20,000 prize.  However, on the second day, the flood gates were opened and hackers were allowed to use default-installed client applications.

The Mac fell within minutes, hijacked by security researcher Charlie Miller.  Miller compromised the computer through security flaws in the new Safari 3.1 browser, which he declined to make public.  For his takeover via the new vulnerability, Miller netted a sweet prize of $10,000.  Surprisingly, the hackers were unable to gain control of the Vista or Ubuntu machines that day.

On the third day, hackers were allowed to exploit popular third-party applications.  Hackers found the Vista machine surprisingly hard to crack in what they thought would be an "easy pickings" day.  The improved security is likely owing largely to SP1, perhaps because of NX support for heap memory.  In the end it was taken down by a cross-platform Flash Player attack.  The Ubuntu machine survived the day.

Some point that the Mac and others may be even more vulnerable than the show indicates as some have noted that a pre-authentication vulnerability might command a price of $50,000 or more elsewhere, making an exploit at the show unprofitable.  According to eWeek's security analysts, "Safari is prone to a remote code-execution vulnerability because it fails to adequately handle regular expressions with large, nested repetition counts. Inaccurate compilation lengths are calculated, and an overflow results."

Miller didn't even have to use new vulnerabilities also known for Safari.  The first is a simple overflow attack using zip files.  The second attack allows injection of content in a window belonging to a trusted site. 

A recent independent analysis confirmed that Apple patches its vulnerabilities slower than Microsoft.  The analysis followed a controversial Microsoft report by Jeff Jones, known for trashing Firefox for its bugs.  The report indicated that 36 vulnerabilities in Vista were fixed over a total of nine patching events, and 30 unpatched vulnerabilities remained, while a total of 116 vulnerabilities were fixed in OS X over 17 patching events, with 41 unpatched vulnerabilities.

Apple's patches last year indicated Apple's slower than acceptable patching pace.  It included patches for four vulnerabilities known since 2006 and two known since 2005.  The oldest of these, a vulnerability in Apache, had a fix released by Apache in 2005.

Security experts point out that despite Apple's poor security, its machines remain less attacked than Windows machines.  Many believe this is simply a matter of market share.  With Mac sales on the rise, there may soon be a large increase in Apple-targeted malware and takeovers with the Safari browsing taking the brunt of the attacks.

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By kextyn on 3/31/2008 12:49:47 PM , Rating: 2
Steve Jobs thinks (or thought) Safari is the most innovative browser in the world? Safari was released in 2003 and the only notable feature not found on other browsers (that I could find) was the bookmark syncing. What have they added since then that was more innovative than anything Opera or Mozilla did?

RE: Innovative?
By 777 on 3/31/2008 4:36:16 PM , Rating: 2
I'm a Apple user and mostly surf with Safari, but also use Mozilla because some sites just don't except Safari. You may be right about what Jobs thinks and as a business owner I would believe he might say anything to sell his product. I would never say Safari is the most innovative browser, because it's not it certainly lacks features I want, but it's simple and on my Macs'(not Pc), it is the fastest browser I have ever used. Mozilla is quite a bit slower than Safari. I have yet to use IE on Vista so I can't speak for that, but I have in the past hated older versions of IE, my surfing experience was some of the worst.

RE: Innovative?
By RedStar on 3/31/2008 6:34:38 PM , Rating: 2
no per an article here the other day ...

apple purposely slowes other browser code down.

RE: Innovative?
By kelmon on 4/1/2008 9:16:16 AM , Rating: 2
Without keeping track of what the other browsers were doing and when it is a bit hard to say but a proper RSS reader back in Safari 2 was (I think) more than anyone else provided (I don't think Firefox's LiveBookmarks count). Beyond that the only other additions I can think of is Web Clips in conjunction with Dashboard for the creation of widgets and enhancements to the WebKit rendering engine, which is generally ahead of the competition in terms of support for new technologies.

Tab management tends to be better in Safari but this is tempered by the fact that you can't set it to open all links in a new tab without changing a hidden preference using the command line, which is incredibly dumb. Still, it is nice at times that in addition to being able to reorganise tabs in your current window, you can also drag tabs into new windows or move them to another existing window.

As a general rule, I prefer Safari but after this debacle I've switched to Camino.

"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

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