Researcher: Apple Patch falls short

Apple Computer released its third major patch this year for the OS X operating system on Thursday, fixing 31 software vulnerabilities in a range of products that could be used by remote attackers to compromise Mac OS systems.

Security Update 2006-003 (http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=303737) was published on Apple's Web site and includes software fixes for holes in OS X, the Safari Web browser, and Mac components for viewing image and video files.

Also included are fixes for a number of security flaws publicized by independent researcher Tom Ferris in April. However, Ferris says the latest patch doesn't cover other critical holes he reported to Apple, and that he may soon publish the details of those flaws, too.

An Apple spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The patches, which come two days after Microsoft released its monthly security fixes, underscore the changing security climate for Mac systems, which are a small fraction of the computer population, but are under increasing scrutiny for security holes.

Among the flaws Apple fixed are an integer overflow in the processing of JPEG files by OS X systems prior to Version 10.4 that could allow attackers to harbor malicious code in image files; the code executes when the file is viewed.

Another flaw affects Quicktime Streaming Server on some versions of OS X and could allow attackers to use malicious RTSP (Realtime Streaming Protocol) requests to trigger a buffer overflow on the server. Other holes would allow attackers to use e-mail messages, Macromedia Flash files or malicious Web shortcuts to take control of Mac systems.

Ferris told InfoWorld there were still holes in Safari, QuickTime, and the iTunes application that he reported to Apple but were not patched in the latest release. He did not publish details of those holes on his Web site in April, but he described them as critical flaws that allow remote code execution.

Ferris said he is considering releasing the details of the unpatched holes on May 14 on his Web site (http://www.security-protocols.com/). He also says he has found new holes in OS X affecting TIFF format files and BOMArchiver, an application used to compress files. He did not provide details about the flaws or proof of their existence.

Compared with Apple's release, Microsoft's May security patch was small. The software giant posted three security bulletins -- two of them rated "critical" that covered five vulnerabilities.

Security experts have been weighing in on Apple security more frequently in recent months, as critical flaws in the OS X operating system and Safari browser and viruses and Web based attacks targeting Mac systems have made headlines.

Anti-virus and security software companies have started offering products for Mac OS X, and there is debate about whether Apple's shift to the same Intel architecture used by Microsoft Windows will change the security posture of Mac systems.

Officially, Apple downplays security holes in its products and new OS X attacks -- which are still rare compared to those targeting Windows systems. But some security industry insiders have suggested that the company should appoint a chief security officer to coordinate the company's response to security.

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