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Security experts say poor driver design leaves doors wide open

Two security researchers from Black Hat this week revealed a method in which a MacBook can be broken into and taken control of. In fact, the intrusion method is at such a low level that even firewalls and anti-virus applications can't help. Based on flaws in wireless network driver design, Apple's line of MacBooks -- and MacBook Pros -- allows an attacker to remotely bypass the security of the laptop and the operating system.

Jon Ellch and David Maynor from Black Hat say that drivers for Apple's notebooks are developed not in house, but outside using contracted development companies. Ellch says that often times, these development people are under so much pressure from higher management to get working drivers so that companies can rush our products to market. Under circumstances like this, drivers for devices such as wireless network processors enter "the wild" in an untested state.

However, Mayner said that "we're not picking specifically on Macs here, but if you watch those 'Get a Mac' commercials enough, it eventually makes you want to stab one of those users in the eye with a lit cigarette or something." Mayner cites that many of Apple's commercials claim that Macs don't suffer from the same security vulnerabilities that PCs do but in fact, they do.

The team at Black Hat demonstrated that they could circumvent the Wi-Fi security and OS level security in a MacBook and within just 60 seconds, were able to take complete control of the machine. Black Hat demonstrated the technique through a pre-recorded video to prevent anyone from intercepting the wireless network traffic to deconstruct the attack and release it elsewhere. Black Hat said that it has been in contact with both Apple and Microsoft, because the vulnerability exists on both sides.

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from the article...
By Quiksel on 8/4/2006 1:00:04 PM , Rating: -1
Maynor said the two have found at least two similar flaws in device drivers for wireless cards either designed for or embedded in machines running the Windows OS. Still, the presenters said they ultimately decided to run the demo against a Mac due to what Maynor called the "Mac user base aura of smugness on security."

Okay, point taken... but let's just get this straight, though... It's a Macbook running WINDOWS that they hacked, which is a little different (read: a lot different) than when it's running OS X. Sure, you can take a Macbook, load it up with XP, get Blaster, and then we can make a huge headline with an even better time: "Macbooks get hacked within 6 seconds", but it doesn't change the fact that it's noticeably Windows' fault and not explicitly the Apple product that is to blame for the insecurity.

This is probably why Apple has not totally embraced the Windows scene just yet: they'd have to own up to the responsibility that it could/does make their product look a little less smug.


RE: from the article...
By Quiksel on 8/4/2006 1:01:21 PM , Rating: 2
and yet, I still cannot find whether it says they were in Windows or Mac OS X when the hack is done. Which is it?


RE: from the article...
By MercenaryForHire on 8/4/2006 1:10:05 PM , Rating: 1
Ars and /. both report that the Macbook was exploited while running OSX - but since the exploit is cross-platform*, it really doesn't matter.

- M4H

*Since the card is based on an Atheros chipset, and the OpenBSD (ported to Free) Atheros drivers are blob-free and audited, I doubt it is vulnerable. But given Open's track record, is anyone surprised? :P

RE: from the article...
By Nightskyre on 8/4/2006 1:06:16 PM , Rating: 3
"but it doesn't change the fact that it's noticeably Windows' fault"

It certainly is not. First, laying blame cannot be on an operating system, but on a firm. So, to correct your statement, you must mean it is Microsoft's fault. However, semantics aside, you cannot lay blame on an operating system for bad driver coding. Microsoft didn't write the drivers for the Mac's wireless device, the "contracted development companies" did, and then, because they weren't tested by Apple, the blame subsequently falls on those "development companies" and then Apple.

At the very least, you cannot blame Microsoft.

RE: from the article...
By Quiksel on 8/4/2006 1:08:39 PM , Rating: 2
true, I agree with that. Thanks for the correction, you are correct, sir.

RE: from the article...
By kattanna on 8/4/2006 1:09:25 PM , Rating: 2
The video shows Ellch and Maynor targeting a specific security flaw in the Macbook's wireless "device driver," the software that allows the internal wireless card to communicate with the underlying OS X operating system

second paragraph of the article

RE: from the article...
By Tuan Nguyen on 8/4/2006 1:17:44 PM , Rating: 2
No, they said that the flaw exists in drivers for OS X that ship with MacBooks. The article says that they also found two similar flaws in drivers for Windows OS machines, not for MacBooks running Windows.


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