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Memory protections in Snow Leopard are still too weak, though it shows other improvements

Apple has been bragging about the security of its new operating system, OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard".  Leaping from Leopard to Snow Leopard, Apple gives its users limited antivirus/anti-malware protection (the feature currently only detects two signatures out of a handful of known OS X malware signatures).

Still, security experts aren't so hot on Snow Leopard, criticizing the operating system's default firewall setting of "off", its lack of fully automatic updates, and weak anti-phishing efforts for Safari.  They also weren't impressed that Apple shipped with a vulnerable version of Flash, which downgrade users from the safer current version.

Now one prominent Mac hacker has pointed out a significant difference that makes Snow Leopard less secure than the upcoming Microsoft OS, Windows 7. 

Charlie Miller, of Baltimore-based Independent Security Evaluators, the co-author of The Mac Hacker's Handbook, and winner of two consecutive "Pwn2own" hacker contests is about as experienced as OS X hackers come.  He recently criticized Snow Leopard, stating, "Apple didn't change anything.  It's the exact same ASLR as in Leopard, which means it's not very good."

ASLR is address space layout randomization, a security technology that randomly assigns data to memory to make it tougher for attackers to determine the location of critical operating system functions.  According to Mr. Miller, unlike Windows 7, which features robust ASLR, Snow Leopard's ASLR is half-baked. It does not properly randomize the heap, the stack and the dynamic linker, the part of Snow Leopard that links multiple shared libraries for an executable.  This means that it's much easier for hackers to attack Snow Leopard via memory injection than Windows 7.

Still Mr. Miller offered some praise for Apple.  They rewrote QuickTime X, their video player, largely from scratch fixing many holes and insecurities in the process -- including an exploit Mr. Miller had been saving.  He states, "Apple rewrote a bunch of QuickTime, which was really smart, since it's been the source of lots of bugs in the past.  They've shaken out hundreds of bugs in QuickTime over the years, but it was still really smart of them to rewrite it.  [Still] I'd reduce the number of file formats from 200 or so to 50, and reduce the attack surface. I don't think anyone would miss them."

He also praises Apple's relatively effective implementation of DEP (data execution prevention), another memory protection scheme that Windows 7 also has.  DEP is also present in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Windows Vista.  Still without ASLR, DEP is only so good he says.  He states, "Snow Leopard's more secure than Leopard, but it's not as secure as Vista or Windows 7.  When Apple has both [in place], that's when I'll stop complaining about Apple's security."

So why aren't Macs being exploited left and right and why can Apple still air commercials claiming superior security?  Mr. Miller states, "It's harder to write exploits for Windows than the Mac, but all you see are Windows exploits. That's because if [the hacker] can hit 90% of the machines out there, that's all he's gonna do. It's not worth him nearly doubling his work just to get that last 10%."

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RE: Quoted for truth
By glennc on 9/18/2009 1:06:07 AM , Rating: 3
it doesn't want to

RE: Quoted for truth
By Boze on 9/18/2009 1:18:49 PM , Rating: 2
You mean it doesn't have time to, because its too busy trying to get rid of the trojan it got from iWork, to do some iWork in the first place.

I've always maintained that Macs are used by three classes of people:

1. Those who don't know any better and were indoctrinated through schools (shame on the schools, since Windows machines would be cheaper to buy, administer, and purchase peripherals for).

2. Those who want to look 'cool' by looking like other people (Note for the stupid and shallow, 'cool' people are 'cool' because they're nothing like you or anyone else. James Dean was 'cool' because no one like him had come before him).

3. Those who actually think they 'need' their Mac to do whatever it is they do. Hint people, whatever your Mac can do, there's a Windows program that will do it either: easier, with more precision, with greater degree of control and flexibility, or faster. And usually some combination of those attributes.

The irony of all this is that I'm posting this from an iMac in the Computer Commmons of the Mitchell Memorial Library on campus at Mississippi State University. Why you ask? Because there are over 100 Windows XP machines here and they're always taken. The iMacs, however, are always available...

RE: Quoted for truth
By ersts on 9/18/2009 2:34:44 PM , Rating: 1
1. Those who don't know any better and were indoctrinated through schools (shame on the schools, since Windows machines would be cheaper to buy, administer, and purchase peripherals for).

I don't know about that. Back when I was in school, there was Win9x and DOS, and in case you forgot, configuring IRQs, putting in entries in autoexec.bat to allocate ram for "expanded" and "extended" memory, and seeing that most apps couldn't use "expanded" and other fun stuff wasn't easy to do or administer.

The Macs in my high school's yearbook publishing room could auto-find and configure the Apple laser printers, had easy to use GUIs far more advanced than Win 3.1, and were already set for networking. We even had the original Mac from like 85 or so, and that had a 3.5inch floppy while the PC world still had 5.25 drives. What took Intel with ATX to bring soft power on computers, already was on the Mac computers from 1985.

Yep, they were expensive though. But for running PageMaker, it was necessary.

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone

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