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 its 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 suggestto the highest authority in the company you dare to email directlythat 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.
Enterprises Need to Enforce Security Policies for iOS Devices
As Apple devices grow in ubiquity, its operating systems become more of an inviting target. Microsoft certainly doesn’t mind pointing this out, as it did with the recent discovery of Mac malware targeting unpatched Office running on pre-Lion versions of OS X.
Jeong Wook Oh, of Microsoft’s Malware Protection Center, wrote at the time that this all points to user responsibility for updating installed applications.
“Exploiting Mac OSX is not much different from other operating systems,” he wrote. “Even though Mac OSX has introduced many mitigation technologies to reduce risk, your protection against security vulnerabilities has a direct correlation with updating installed applications.”
Are Mac users still relatively oblivious to the need to update for security purposes? It’s hard to gauge if you write about security, given that we’re largely preaching to the choir. But at least on Facebook, I still see plenty of anecdotal evidence that my Mac user friends aren’t as on top of this as they could be.
But beyond individual user responsibility lies an even bigger issue, at least from the vantage point of the workplace: namely, organizational responsibility to get policies in place that keep the lid on iGadget security problems.
According to Zscaler ThreatLabZ’s recent “State of the Web” security research report (they do cloud security), mobile Web transactions are rising in the enterprise and Apple took the lead away from Google’s Android in that growth for the first quarter of 2012: Apple transactions now make up 48 percent of enterprise traffic, compared with 40 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011. The research looked at 200 billion transactions from millions of business users across the globe that went across Zscaler’s cloud.
The popularity of iOS and Apple products continues to build momentum in the enterprise, and security solutions must cover these devices with consistent policy enforcement, the report says.
Just because an iOS device is coming into the workplace in somebody’s pocket doesn’t mean it’s not corporate IT’s responsibility to button down its security. Do a Google search on “iOS in the workplace” and you’ll come across some good blueprints for crafting a corporate policy specific to iOS.
- Corporate policies should forbid jailbreaking.”There is no guarantee that even if the device has been
Jailbroken ‘legitimately’ that applications installed via 3rd party application stores ¦ do not contain hostile code,” according to the whitepaper.
- Determine what data should be permitted on the device. Don’t let users mix corporate with personal data.
- Always encrypt sensitive information stored locally on devices.
- Control what applications should be run on the device. Threats often come from third-party applications, Portcullis notes.
- User awareness and education “is paramount,” Portcullis says. “Make certain that users are educated as to the threats to their own as well as company data.”