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A recent Secunia study indicated that Apple had the most vulnerabilities of the major tech companies  (Source: Secunia)

Apple's Safari browser happily will fill in your personal info to malicious web forms. This glaring flaw can lead to an unacceptable breach of privacy.  (Source: Jeremiah Grossman)
"It just works." -- Apple slogan

Apple is known for its tendency to deny problems with its popular gadgets, making life miserable for customers when such problems occur.  While Apple's iPhone 4 antenna issues are currently stealing the show, there's perhaps no better example overall than Apple's spotty track record on security.

Security research firm Secunia just released a list of vulnerabilities and Apple for the first has come out on top as the most vulnerable.  Secunia warns, "[The] graph is not an indication of the individual vendors’ security, as it is not possible to compare the vendors based on number of vulnerabilities alone."

Apple's supporters were quick to attack the report.  
AppleInsider writes:

Not all vulnerabilities are equal: Secunia outlines five levels of criticality ranging from minor "not critical" issues to "extremely critical" problems that can result in remote exploits without any interaction from the user, and for which active exploits are already known to exist. Yet Secunia's vulnerability report totals throw all these various types of flaws together into sums that are frequently used for meaningless comparison purposes. 

It's ironic that almost simultaneous to the report another significant security flaw in Safari aired.  Safari -- Apple's browser software -- has oft seen releases so buggy to the point that they were unusable.  Safari 5 certainly offered some improvements in that department, but it apparently doesn't fair particularly better in the security department than past releases, including Safari 4 which had a flaw so severe it prompted a Department Homeland Security warning.

While the latest Safari bug isn't as bad an exploit as some go, considering it's not a route to installing malware, it can result in the theft of your personal info.  It all starts with one of Apple's features in Safari -- autofill.  Different from the standard browser's autofill, which remembers users names and passwords for certain sites, Safari has an even more ambitious autofill which maintains info about a user in their address book card and offers up these details when needed.

Unfortunately, Apple didn't appear to realize that it was necessary to screen what it allows to access this data.  Security researchers revealed that a simple web form can grab much of this data -- first name, last name, work place, city, state, and email address -- no questions asked.

Such info could be used in phishing schemes.  It could also be used in blackmail schemes if the users were visiting naughty websites.  Ultimately, it represents a gross threat to privacy that easily surpasses Apple's recent loss of iPad buyers' email addresses (a problem that was largely carrier AT&T's fault).  Apple was informed of the problem on June 17, 2010, but since has done nothing.

The flaw was discovered by Jeremiah Grossman, founder of WhiteHat Security.

Security problems are hardly something new for Apple though.  The iPhone has increasingly been attacked.  One security researcher suggested its security was so poor that it was "useless" to businesses.  Apple has made some improvements with each release of its iPhone OS, but they didn't stop malicious worms from cropping up in the iPhone 3GS generation.

On the computer side, Apple also has had numerous past issues.  Its weak memory protections in its past two operating systems -- Tiger and Snow Leopard -- have spawned a number of successful attacks.  Worse yet Apple's latest OS -- Snow Leopard -- shipped with an outdated vulnerable version of Adobe Flash.

Apple has made some gains -- its new OS does come with mild antivirus protections (though Apple quietly recommends users purchase dedicated AV software).  And the OS does offer working DEP (data execution prevention), though it ships with a virtually broken address space layout randomization (ASLR) implementation (which rival Microsoft's Windows 7 flawlessly implements).

Ultimately, though what is really killing Apple is its slow patch time.  Apple's "there is no problem" mentality has made it the slowest company at patching, according to recent surveys.  It took it a year to finally last year (June) patch a major Java hole.  Unfortunately, such performance is more the rule than the exception to it.

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By Tony Swash on 7/25/2010 11:10:21 AM , Rating: 1
I'm sorry, but you make it sound as though setting up any machine except for a Mac is as complicated as configuring some mid-90's Linux distro. If you're referring to Windows in a similar context, you couldn't possibly be further from the truth. When was the last time you actually used Windows?

Actually I just reinstalled Windows 7 because the previous install crapped out (Dell hardware problem) and have used and installed every version of Windows since Windows 95. Windows always feels like its been designed by a committee of engineers working to a deadline (which is probably an accurate picture).

Lots of counterpoints to my argument but little time to cover them all (I am on my vacation guys! currently Taos NM) so here are a few points.

I don't buy the security through obscurity - what tech company could be less obscure than Apple right now. The million macs sold each month are probably going to people from a higher than average income bracket and to lots of creative professionals - a juicy target. Yet no real world exploits.

Ultimately it doesn't matter if Windows is more or less secure than Macs - the history of Windows has completely tarnished the brand in the public's mind as far as security goes.

As for market share - a couple of points. First broadly Mac user don't much care about market share (although overtaking Windows would please us) what we care about is the health of Apple and the health of the Mac platform. Both of which are truly excellent. This is because our main concern by far is that we can continue to use our macs and never be forced to use windows.

Secondly just before Jobs returned to Apple he was asked what he would do if he ran Apple (which was teetering on the edge of going bust at the time) and he said he would "milk the mac for all he could whilst looking for the next big thing" and one cannot but help feel he has done just that. The Mac platform is now healthy and secure (as a viable platform in the market), it has a great rep amongst the buying public and Mac sales continue to grow healthily. Meanwhile Apple has moved strategically to be a major and possibly dominant player in the new post-desktop world of mobile device computing.

So Apple fans are very pleased with the shape of the world right now.

Why and how Apple has succeeded so astonishingly well (and I think we can all agree that Apple under Jobs has been one of greatest business turn-arounds in history) and why Apple infuriates so many techies is avery interesting story and one I hope to post more about when I come back from my current vacation.

Till then keep well. I do hope the sunshine comes out in Taos today!

"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference

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