With close to 75 million OS X distributions reportedly in the wild, triple the number two years ago, Apple has to start taking security more seriously. Fortunately for Apple users, while security researchers regularly demonstrate OS X exploits, the Black Hat community remains rather apathetic to attacking the Mac community.
The latest highlight in a growing picture that OS X may not be as secure as some think came in May when security firm Intego, which makes security software for Macs, warned users of a Java flaw in the OS X Java distribution which could allow Java applets to execute malicious code. Intego complained, "Apple has been aware of this vulnerability for at least five months, since it was made public, but has neglected to issue a security update to protect against this issue."
The flaw, was originally found by Sami Koivu, who reported it to Sun Microsystems on August 1st 2008. The vulnerability also affected OpenJDK, GIJ, icedtea and Sun's JRE, which share the same core classes with Apple's Java SE and J2SE. A patch was issued by Sun on December 3rd 2008, with most of these distributions quickly incorporated it.
Months went by with no action from Apple, though. Programmer Landon Fuller aired proof-of-concept code of how to use the exploit to attack Apple OS X installs in May. Still, Apple did not incorporate the patch. States Mr. Fuller, "Unfortunately, it seems that many Mac OS X security issues are ignored if the severity of the issue is not adequately demonstrated. Due to the fact that an exploit for this issue is available in the wild, and the vulnerability has been public knowledge for six months, I have decided to release my own proof of concept to demonstrate the issue."
Now a month later Apple has finally released a patch for Java on OS X 10.5 Leopard (the latest version) and 10.4 Tiger. Describes Apple, "Java for Mac OS X 10.5 Update 4 delivers improved reliability, security, and compatibility for Java SE 6, J2SE 5.0 and J2SE 1.4.2 on Mac OS X v10.5."
The patch for OS X 10.5 can be found here, while the patch for OS X 10.4 can be found here.
This is not the first serious door that Apple has left open. Last September a researcher going by the pseudonym "Securfrog" published code to crash Apple's QuickTime video player after Apple ignored a glaring flaw for months. Similarly, a DNS flaw discovered by Dan Kaminsky was only fixed months later.
In Apple's defense, Microsoft also occasionally is slow to patch issues -- such as the recent patch of a long-standing Microsoft Office bug. However, when it comes to security flaws in web accessible content -- such as QuickTime, Java, or Safari -- Microsoft's track record is much better than Apple's. These are the types of content most frequently exploited to attack machines over the web.