Worse, say experts, is that Snow Leopard silently "downgrades" once-secure editions of Flash Player to the buggy version that ships with the Mac OS X 10.6 operating system upgrade.
On Monday, Intego, an Austin, Texas firm that specializes in Mac security software, noted that Snow Leopard installs Flash Player 10.0.23.1. The current version of Flash Player for the Mac, however, is actually 10.0.32.18. "It seems that Apple is shipping an outdated, even dangerous version of Flash Player," Intego spokesman Peter James said on a company blog.
On Wednesday, U.K. antivirus vendor Sophos echoed Intego. "Imagine you have been really diligent about keeping your copy of Adobe Flash up-to-date," said Graham Cluley, a senior technical consultant, in a Sophos blog. "Now, imagine you got your copy of Snow Leopard on Friday, and have now updated your computers. Unfortunately, during the course of that update, and unknown to you, Apple downgraded your installation of Flash to an earlier version, which is known not to be secure and is not patched against various security vulnerabilities."
Computerworld confirmed that Snow Leopard installs Flash Player 10.0.23.1 on Macs that had previously been running Leopard and Flash Player 10.0.32.18.
Adobe updated Flash Player to 10.0.32.18 in late July to plug a dozen vulnerabilities, including three inherited from flawed Microsoft development code and one that hackers had been exploiting for at least a week. Prior to that, Adobe last updated Flash Player in February, when it rolled out 10.0.22.87.
The version of Flash included with Snow Leopard, 10.0.23.1, appears to be an interim build between the February and July updates. Reports as early as mid-June had pegged that version as the one that would be bundled with Snow Leopard.
It's not unusual for operating systems to include outdated third-party software, since developers must lock down the code at some point, making it impossible to include relatively recent updates.
The problem with Snow Leopard, however, is compounded by Apple's sluggish updating of Flash Player. It took Apple until mid-May, for example, to include Flash Player 10.0.22.87, the version Adobe released in late February, with a Mac OS X 10.5 security upgrade.
It's unknown when Apple will ship the first security update for Snow Leopard. In 2007, Apple updated Leopard about three weeks after it released that operating system.
Cluley advised Snow Leopard users to manually trigger a Flash Player update to stay secure. Users can determine the current version of Flash Player by heading to this page on Adobe's site, then upgrade to 10.0.32.18 by downloading it from here.
"This should be done as a matter of priority," Cluley said. "Adobe is the 'new Microsoft' when it comes to security vulnerabilities, with hackers targeting their software looking for vulnerabilities to exploit. Mac users who have been diligent enough to keep their security up-to-date do not deserve to be silently downgraded."
Apple isn't the only operating system maker that's been caught foisting outdated Flash software. In June 2008, Microsoft shipped an out-of-date, vulnerable version of Flash with Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3), that venerable operating system's last major upgrade.
Apple did not reply to questions about when Snow Leopard was locked down, or when it will update the operating system to provide the latest version of Flash Player.