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Year-old QuickTime bug gives hackers new drive-by attack

Firefox is needed to exploit flaw, say researchers; Mozilla calls it 'very serious'

September 13, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A year-old bug in QuickTime that, when paired with Firefox, allows hackers to hijack PCs and Macs now has Mozilla Corp. scrambling for a fix, the company's chief security officer said yesterday.

According to Petko Petkov, a U.K.-based Web application penetration tester, the current version of QuickTime contains a flaw in its Media Link (.qtl file formats) function. Any file with a QuickTime-supported extension -- there are more than 60 -- will be parsed by Apple Inc.'s media player. However, because it fails to sanitize the XML content, an attack can sneak links to malicious JavaScript into the file and get QuickTime to run it.

"In practice, I can do anything with the browser -- like installing browser back doors -- and the operating system if the victim is running with administrative privileges," Petkov said in the write-up he posted Wednesday. He said he first disclosed the vulnerability, as well as a second one in QuickTime, in September 2006. When he didn't hear from Apple, he did so again in December.

Although some security companies, including eEye Digital Security Inc., called out the open-source Firefox browser as a requirement for a successful exploit, Petkov noted that the bug is in QuickTime and affects users of other browsers, including Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer. "It is not Firefox-specific," he wrote on his blog. "It works for IE as well, although the impact is less critical. This is due to the tightened security policies IE implements for local zone scripts."

Others who left comments on Petkov's post, however, made a wide range of claims. Some, for instance, reported that the proof-of-concept samples that Petkov offered up failed on Windows XP SP2 when running Opera, while others said Firefox on Mac OS X is also invulnerable to the hacks.

Mozilla's security chief, Window Snyder, said her team is on the case. "Mozilla is working with Apple to keep our users safe, and we are also investigating ways to mitigate this more broadly in Firefox," she said yesterday on the company's security blog.

She did not downplay the danger, calling it a "very serious issue," and warned users that Petkov's proof code "may be easily converted into an exploit."

Not surprisingly, though, various Mozilla developers found fault with QuickTime in their ongoing Bugzilla dialogue about a patch strategy. "I don't see what on our side would need to be fixed, if QuickTime didn't have this flaw," said Gavin Sharp.

"There's conflicting information [about] whether this is cross-platform," said Ben Greenbaum, a senior manager at Symantec Corp.'s security response unit, "but it is cross-browser. If a user has Firefox installed, even if he is running IE, he'd be vulnerable."

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