iOS 5 Gadgets: Fun Toys That Can Mess With Enterprise Security

NEWS ANALYSIS: Apple's latest update to iOS not only fixes serious security vulnerabilities, but also serves to remind us that a lot of potentially buggy little gadgets are carrying corporate data.

Apple's latest update to iOS, iOS 5.1.1 fixes three serious security problems within the family of Mac personal gadgets, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Owners of these gadgets should make it a priority to apply the patch.

Today's patch, if you haven't already gotten to it, addresses a number of issues in the WebKit rendering engine, including a memory-corruption issue. It also addresses a security issue in Safari, which uses WebKit.

But it€™s hard to understand why mobile device owners take their time installing important security updates. It seems too obvious to necessitate writing down, but a little alacrity with regards to patching is, in fact, an essential way to protect your toys from hacking and malware.

That occurred to me after looking at coverage of today's patch by Sophos's Paul Ducklin.

Not that a lack of alacrity is necessarily the fault of Mac users, mind you. As Ducklin pointed out, it's actually Apple's own weird lack of synchronicity with security-bulletin publishing that's at issue.

Apple relegated the update's security content to its HT1222 landing page. But when Ducklin visited that page, it showed the most recent security update as being April 13's malware-related Flashback fixes. It turns out that the page you need to consult for iOS 5.1.1 is actually HT5278.

The HT5278 page is where you'll find strong, specific warnings about a maliciously crafted site being able to spoof a Safari site address in your iGadget's location bar; about the WebKit's vulnerability to XSS (cross-site scripting) attacks spread by maliciously crafted sites; and about another WebKit vulnerability that can lead to unexpected application termination or arbitrary code execution.

So what's up with Apple's lack of centralized security update notifications? Ducklin actually posted a call for Apple employees to nag their employer about tweaking its update publishing system.

"Do you work for Apple?" Ducklin wrote. "If so, please suggest€”to the highest authority in the company you dare to email directly€”that your employer tweaks its update publishing system. Make sure that HT1222 is updated at the same time as any security-related product update is published, not hours or days later. This will have a positive outcome: Your users will apply security fixes more promptly."

As far as Mac users' responsibility goes, well, security industry analysts and news writers have been pounding the drum for quite a while with regard to a long-held and now discredited assumption that Macs are inherently safe.

That perception comes out of Apple's history of having a relatively small share of the PC market compared with Microsoft. Remember the days when security headlines were Microsoft-centric? Not so much, nowadays.