Public embarrassment at a hacking contest and vulnerability
disclosures for a new browser made for a discouraging week for Mac
It was one security embarrassment after another for Apple the week of March
It began at the CanSecWest show, where the annual hacker contest challenged
attendees to compromise a Vista system, a Ubuntu Linux
system and a MacBook Air. The first day was reserved for preauthentication
attacks and would have netted $20,000, but nobody took the prize.
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On the second day, attackers were allowed to use default-installed client
minutes of the opening of the second day, the Mac was hijacked
researcher Charlie Miller, who won the machine and a $10,000 prize for his
efforts. Miller attacked the brand new Safari 3.1 browser through a new
vulnerability, the details of which he declined to provide. The Vista
and Ubuntu boxes survived the day.
On March 28, the attack surface expanded to include popular third-party
applications, which should make for easy pickings on both Ubuntu and Vista.
The Vista box took much longer to go down than
originally anticipated; it seems SP1 makes these exploits harder, perhaps
because of NX support for heap memory, or perhaps the hackers simply didn't
prepare on SP1. But in
the end, it went down through a new Flash Player vulnerability, which the
hacker describes as cross-platform
. The Ubuntu machine was the only one
left standing. Perhaps the attackers didn't have time to try the
Flash Player on Linux
One more point about CanSecWest that should be made: It's just possible that
the market for vulnerabilities, especially for preauthentication
vulnerabilities, has higher prices than the CanSecWest show. Why blow a great
vulnerability for $20,000 when you can get $50,000 elsewhere?
Even so, Apple doesn't tend to do well at these hacker events. It
has a history of getting embarrassed.
And back in the day of the Month of
Whatever Bugs, the Month of Apple
was probably the best of them. Put a Mac up against a serious attack,
and it drops like a stone.
In owning the Mac, it's likely that Miller used this recently revealed
vulnerability in the Safari Webkit
to exploit the machine, but nobody's
talking. 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.