Apple delivers mammoth update, patches 58 bugs

Apple patched 58 vulnerabilities in its Mac operating systems today, the most since May 2009, including several in the QuickTime media player that it had fixed separately in early September.

Apple apparently also retired Mac OS X 10.4, aka Tiger, from security support; none of the patches affect that operating system, which debuted in April 2005. Apple traditionally stops providing security updates for its oldest still-supported OS several months after the release of a new edition.

Today's security update was the sixth from Apple this year, and the second that included patches for Snow Leopard , launched in late August.

"Seems a little large, but really, it's par for the course for Apple," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security, referring to the number of individual bugs quashed in today's 2009-006 update. In May, Apple patched a record 67 vulnerabilities ; it addressed 55 in February, 33 in September, and 19 in two separate August updates.

"Thank goodness Apple didn't release it tomorrow," Storms said. Microsoft, which unlike Apple sets a regular schedule for its security updates, is slated to deliver six updates Tuesday that will patch 15 vulnerabilities.

More than half of the vulnerabilities patched today, 32 out of the 58, were accompanied by the phrase "may lead to arbitrary code execution," which is Apple's way of saying that a flaw was critical and could be used by attackers to hijack a Mac. Apple does not assign ratings or severity scores to the bugs it patches, unlike other major software makers, such as Microsoft and Oracle.

Apple plugged holes in 37 different components of Mac OS X, ranging from AFP Client and the open-source Apache Web server software to CoreGraphics, the Help Viewer and the Spotlight desktop search engine.

Storms said several were worth particular attention, including the four that patched critical vulnerabilities in the version of QuickTime originally packaged with Mac OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard .

"Those were the vulnerabilities Apple patched in QuickTime 7.6.4," said Storms, noting that Apple issued a separate QuickTime update for Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5, Tiger and Leopard, respectively, on Sept. 9, just 12 days after debuting Snow Leopard.

Apple delivered Snow Leopard's first security update on Sept. 10 to fix nine flaws in Adobe's Flash Player that it had plugged in late July, but was unable to squeeze into Snow Leopard before its launch.

Five other vulnerabilities were also Snow Leopard-only: A pair of bugs in the CoreMedia component's parsing of H.264 movie files, one in ImageIO's handling of TIFF files, and vulnerabilities in the kernel and launch services were patched in today's update.

Storms said that one of today's patches, which Apple labeled as affecting the Libsecurity component, had been patched a month ago by Microsoft in that company's regular October security update. Apple credited Dan Kaminsky, of IOActive, and the Microsoft vulnerability research team for reporting the flaw, which was in the parsing of X.509 certificates. It could be used to spoof the digital certificate of a Web site, perhaps in league with identity theft attacks.

"While it is not yet considered computationally feasible to mount an attack using these weaknesses, this update disables support for an X.509 certificate with an MD2 hash for any use other than as trusted root certificate," Apple said in the accompanying advisory.

Last month, Microsoft said that proof-of-concept code had been published "which would allow an attacker to exploit this vulnerability in limited scenarios," but said it had not seen active attacks.

Several open-source components of Mac OS X were also patched in Apple's update today, including the Apache Web server, Fetchmail, IPSec, LibXML, OpenLDAP, OpenSSH, PHP, RADIUS and Subversion. "I looked up the release dates of those to get an idea of Apple's response time," Storms said. "Apache was patched in June; Fetchmail, LibXML and Subversion in August; and PHP and RADIUS in September."

Storms and other security experts have been critical of Apple's sometimes-lethargic patching pace for open-source pieces it includes in Mac OS X. "To harp on the fact again, if Apple is going to distribute open-source code and applications, they need to close that loophole faster," said Storms. "Some of those, like PHP and LibXML were pretty important to get patched, and they were fairly fast, for them, this time. But OpenSSH's bug was patched more than a year ago."

The security update can be downloaded from the Apple site or installed using Mac OS X's integrated update service. Snow Leopard users, however, won't see the security update separately, since the patches were rolled into the Mac OS X 10.6.2 upgrade also released today.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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