OS X Lion Raises Bar on Security, But Battery Firmware Vulnerability Surfaces

filevault iconThe Register reports on some of the new security improvements in OS X Lion, with researchers calling the changes a "major overhaul" that goes far beyond the minor security tweaks Apple made going from Mac OS X Leopard to Snow Leopard.

"It's a significant improvement, and the best way that I've described the level of security in Lion is that it's Windows 7, plus, plus," said Dino Dai Zovi, principal of security consultancy Trail of Bits and the coauthor of The Mac Hacker's Handbook. "I generally tell Mac users that if they care about security, they should upgrade to Lion sooner rather than later, and the same goes for Windows users, too."

In particular, the report points to such features as full support for address space layout randomization (ASLR), application sandboxing, and a revamped FileVault encryption system as being key to Lion's improved security.

"When they went from Leopard to Snow Leopard, as far as I'm concerned, there really wasn't any change," said Charlie Miller, principal research consultant at security firm Accuvant and the other coauthor of The Mac Hacker's Handbook. "They might have said there was more security and it was better, but at a low functionality level there really wasn't any difference. Now, they've made significant changes and it's going to be harder to exploit."

Miller isn't only interested in operating system and core application vulnerabilities, however, as evidenced by his recent discovery of a vulnerability in the chips that control the batteries in Apple's notebooks. That vulnerability could be exploited on a basic level to harm battery function or with additional effort to implant malware that could reinfect computers multiple times.

The batteries' chips are shipped with default passwords, such that anyone who discovers that password and learns to control the chips' firmware can potentially hijack them to do anything the hacker wants. That includes permanently ruining batteries at will, and may enable nastier tricks like implanting them with hidden malware that infects the computer no matter how many times software is reinstalled or even potentially causing the batteries to heat up, catch fire or explode. "These batteries just aren't designed with the idea that people will mess with them," Miller says. "What I'm showing is that it's possible to use them to do something really bad."

Miller plans to officially announce his discoveries at next month's Black Hat conference, and he will also be releasing a new "Caulkgun" tool to allow Mac notebook users to change their batteries' default passwords to randomized strings. That move would help keep hackers out of the batteries, but also prevent Apple from issuing its own upgrades and fixes for the battery firmware. Miller has also been in touch with Apple and Texas Instruments regarding the vulnerability.

Top Rated Comments

munkery Avatar
134 months ago
Um, I don't really understand this article.

The "security guy" says that Lion is great because it has ASLR, disk encryption, and Sandboxing. Windows has had those since Vista, and Windows 7 improved on them. It reads as though he's a paid spokes person.

Here is a comparison of OS X to Windows:

1) Until Vista, the admin account in Windows did not implement DAC in a way to prevent malware by default. Also, Windows has a far greater number of privilege escalation vulnerabilities that allow bypassing DAC restrictions even if DAC is enabled in Windows.

Much of the ability to turn these vulnerabilities into exploits is due to the insecurity of the Windows registry. Also, more easily being able to link remote exploits to local privilege escalation exploits in Windows is due to the Windows registry.

Mac OS X does not use an exposed monolithic structure, such as the Windows registry, to store system settings. Also, exposed configuration files in OS X do not exert as much influence over associated processes as the registry does in Windows.

Mac OS X Snow Leopard has contained only 2 elevation of privilege vulnerabilities since it was released; obviously, neither of these were used in malware.

http://www.exploit-db.com/bypassing-uac-with-user-privilege-under-windows-vista7-mirror/ -> guide to develop exploits to bypass UAC by manipulating registry entries for kernel mode driver vulnerabilities.

https://media.blackhat.com/bh-dc-11/Mandt/BlackHat_DC_2011_Mandt_kernelpool-wp.pdf -> more complete documentation about Windows kernel exploitation.

http://cve.mitre.org/cgi-bin/cvekey.cgi?keyword=win32k+ -> list of incidences of kernel mode driver vulnerabilities.

http://threatpost.com/en_us/blogs/tdl4-rootkit-now-using-stuxnet-bug-120710 -> article about the TDL-4 botnet which uses a UAC bypass exploit when infecting Windows 7.

2) Windows has the potential to have full ASLR but most software does not fully implement the feature. Most software in Windows has some DLLs (dynamic link libraries = Windows equivalent to dyld) which are not randomized.

http://secunia.com/gfx/pdf/DEP_ASLR_2010_paper.pdf -> article overviewing the issues with ASLR and DEP implementation in Windows.

Also, methods have been found to bypass ASLR in Windows 7.

http://vreugdenhilresearch.nl/Pwn2Own-2010-Windows7-InternetExplorer8.pdf -> article describing bypassing ASLR in Windows 7.

Mac OS X has full ASLR implemented on par with Linux. This includes ASLR with position independent executables (PIE). DLLs in Windows have to be pre-mapped at fixed addresses to avoid conflicts so full PIE is not possible with ASLR in Windows.

3) Mac OS X Lion has DEP on stack and heap for both 64-bit and 32-bit processes. Third party software that is 32-bit may lack this feature until recompiled in Xcode 4 within Lion. Not much software for OS X is still 32-bit.

But, not all software in Windows uses DEP; this includes 64-bit software. See article linked in #2.

4) Mac OS X implements canaries using ProPolice, the same mitigation used in Linux. ProPolice is considered the most thorough implementation of canaries. It is known to be much more effective than the similar system used in Windows.

http://www.blackhat.com/presentations/bh-usa-04/bh-us-04-silberman/bh-us-04-silberman-paper.pdf -> article comparing ProPolice to stack canary implementation in Windows.

5) Application sandboxing and mandatory access controls (MAC) in OS X are the same thing. More specifically, applications are sandboxed in OS X via MAC. Mac OS X uses the TrustedBSD MAC framework, which is a derivative of MAC from SE-Linux. This system is mandatory because it does not rely on inherited permissions. Both mandatorily exposed services (mDNSresponder, netbios...) and many client-side apps (Safari, Preview, TextEdit…) are sandboxed in Lion.

Windows does not have MAC. The system that provides sandboxing in Windows, called mandatory integrity controls (MIC), does not function like MAC because it is not actually mandatory. MIC functions based on inherited permissions so it is essentially an extension of DAC (see #1). If UAC is set with less restrictions or disabled in Windows, then MIC has less restrictions or is disabled.

http://www.exploit-db.com/download_pdf/16031 -> article about Mac sandbox.

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb648648(v=VS.85).aspx -> MS documentation about MIC.

https://media.blackhat.com/bh-eu-11/Tom_Keetch/BlackHat_EU_2011_Keetch_Sandboxes-Slides.pdf -> researchers have found the MIC in IE is not a security boundary.

6) In relation to DAC and interprocess sandboxing in OS X in comparison with some functionality of MIC in Windows 7 (see #5), the XNU kernel used in OS X has always had more secure interprocess communication (IPC) since the initial release of OS X.

Mac OS X, via being based on Mach and BSD (UNIX foundation), facilitates IPC using mach messages secured using port rights that implement a measure of access controls on that communication. These access controls applied to IPC make it more difficult to migrate injected code from one process to another.

Adding difficulty to transporting injected code across processes reduces the likelihood of linking remote exploits to local exploits to achieve system level access.

As of OS X Lion, the XPC service has also been added to implement MAC (see #5) on IPC in OS X. (http://developer.apple.com/library/mac/#documentation/MacOSX/Conceptual/BPSystemStartup/Chapters/CreatingXPCServices.html)

7) Windows has far more public and/or unpatched vulnerabilities than OS X.

http://www.vupen.com/english/zerodays/ -> list of public 0days.

http://www.eeye.com/Resources/Security-Center/Research/Zero-Day-Tracker -> another list of public 0days.

http://m.prnewswire.com/news-releases/qihoo-360-detects-oldest-vulnerability-in-microsoft-os-110606584.html -> article about 18 year old UAC bypass vulnerability.

8) Password handling in OS X is much more secure than Windows.

The default account created in Windows does not require a password. The protected storage API in Windows incorporates the users password into the encryption key for items located in protected storage. If no password is set, then the encryption algorithm used is not as strong. Also, no access controls are applied to items within protected storage.

In Mac OS X, the system prompts the user to define a password at setup. This password is incorporated into the encryption keys for items stored in keychain. Access controls are implemented for items within keychain.

Also, Mac OS X uses a salted SHA1 hash, which is still considered cryptographically secure. It is more robust than the MD4 NTLMv2 hash used in Windows 7.

http://www.windowsecurity.com/articles/How-Cracked-Windows-Password-Part1.html -> article about Windows password hashing.
Score: 44 Votes (Like | Disagree)
NT1440 Avatar
134 months ago
For Apple's sake and the sake of the product, shout outs for the person behind finding and talking about this severe security hole. How could have Apple missed this? Then again, OS X is now incredibly secure, mistakes happen.


But this needs to be addressed ASAP, or I know I'd honestly never buy an Apple laptop with this vulnerability - that's ofcourse to say, I wouldn't spend my well earned money on any other laptop if it's not a Mac, but with an issue like this, I would hold off until this is alleviated. :eek:

Um, over react enough?

You have to give them your laptop, then they'd have to know what to do with it. Seeing as it's getting as much press as its gotten, I'd say this a newly discovered exploit.

No real need to get worked up, unless you've had your laptop serviced at some shady place that took it apart for you.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
munkery Avatar
134 months ago
This comparison uses the most recent release of Ubuntu.

Linux has a higher incidence rate of local privilege escalation vulnerabilities than OS X. So, OS X has more secure DAC.

Linux has a lower incidence rate of remote vulnerabilities than OS X. This largely negates the difference in DAC.

But, the difference in remote vulnerabilities is also prior to the new security mitigations in Lion.

ASLR, DEP, canaries (propolice), and mandatory access control (sandboxing) are equivalent between the two with the release of Lion. Much of security mitigations used in OS X are derived from those in Linux.

Mac OS X's kernel has always had more secure interprocess communication (IPC) than the Linux kernel. Lion also adds sandboxing to IPC in OS X.

Password hashing in Linux is more secure. Linux uses sha512 while OS X uses salted SHA1.

Both have secured protected storage. Linux has keyring and OS X has keychain.

But, I do not believe the browser in Linux uses this secure storage. In browser password managers have been shown to be leveraged by malware.

I would say that OS X and Linux have equivalent security given the benefits and deficits of each OS.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
NT1440 Avatar
134 months ago
I like what I'm reading.

I think it'd be very cool to have a small super secure OS on hand, that said if its coming from the DoD and approved for public use (as in allowed for download) I can only assume there is some monitoring stuff in there (regardless of the official PR).
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
WannaGoMac Avatar
134 months ago
Does this exploit require physical access to the computer?
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
munkery Avatar
134 months ago
Also, realiasing that ASLR can be bypassed in Windows, this may be a just a repeat on the Mac.
Bypassing ASLR in Lion will be more like bypassing ASLR in x86_64 Linux distro that uses a full compliment of security mitigations, such as Ubuntu.

Find an article about bypassing ASLR in x86_64 Linux for more info.

Edit: Below is probably the most relevant and recent article.

http://www.blackhat.com/presentations/bh-europe-09/Fritsch/Blackhat-Europe-2009-Fritsch-Bypassing-aslr-slides.pdf
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
gradiente iphone white

Brazilian Electronics Company Revives Long-Running iPhone Trademark Dispute

Tuesday May 19, 2020 1:06 pm PDT by
Apple has been involved in a long-running iPhone trademark dispute in Brazil, which was revived today by IGB Electronica, a Brazilian consumer electronics company that originally registered the "iPhone" name in 2000. IGB Electronica fought a multi-year battle with Apple in an attempt to get exclusive rights to the "iPhone" trademark, but ultimately lost, and now the case has been brought to...
youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
YouTube Picture in Picture Feature

YouTube Premium Subscribers Can Now Use iOS Picture-in-Picture: Here's How

Wednesday August 25, 2021 3:55 am PDT by
Google has rolled out picture-in-picture support as an "experimental" feature for YouTube premium subscribers, allowing them to watch video in a small window when the app is closed. If you're a premium YouTube subscriber looking to try out picture-in-picture, follow these steps: Launch a web browser and sign into your YouTube account at YouTube.com. Navigate to www.youtube.com/new. Scroll...
2012macpro

Apple Outlines Metal-Capable Cards Compatible With macOS Mojave on 2010 and 2012 Mac Pro Models

Monday September 24, 2018 3:26 pm PDT by
Apple's new macOS Mojave update is not compatible with mid-2010 and mid-2012 Mac Pros with stock GPUs, but it is supported on 2010 and 2012 Mac Pro models that have been upgraded with graphics cards that support Metal. Apple today shared a new support document that provides a list of graphics cards that are Metal-capable, which will be useful for 2010 and 2012 Mac Pro owners who want to...
apple privacy

Apple Publishes FAQ to Address Concerns About CSAM Detection and Messages Scanning

Monday August 9, 2021 1:50 am PDT by
Apple has published a FAQ titled "Expanded Protections for Children" which aims to allay users' privacy concerns about the new CSAM detection in iCloud Photos and communication safety for Messages features that the company announced last week. "Since we announced these features, many stakeholders including privacy organizations and child safety organizations have expressed their support of...
iphone 13 teal with text

Apple Expecting iPhone and iPad Supply Constraints in September Quarter

Tuesday July 27, 2021 2:34 pm PDT by
During today's earnings call covering the third fiscal quarter of 2021 (second calendar quarter), Apple CFO Luca Maesteri said that Apple is expecting supply constraints to affect the iPhone and the iPad in the coming quarter. "The supply constraints that we've seen in the June quarter will be higher in the September quarter," said Maestri. The constraints will impact iPhone and iPad sales...
anker lightning cable mfi

Unwrap a New Apple Device? Stock Up on Extra Certified Lightning Cables for as Little as $6

Monday December 25, 2017 5:45 am PST by
If you unwrapped an Apple product today it likely came with one of the company's first-party Lightning cables, but having an extra on hand is always a good idea, so you can place it in other rooms in your house, in your car, or in a bag when you travel. For that reason, now's a good time to shop for third-party Lightning cables that are cheaper than Apple's own accessory, but still Made For...
apple screen time screen icons

Persistent Kids Finding Loopholes in Apple's Screen Time Limits

Tuesday October 15, 2019 9:44 am PDT by
Apple is currently engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with persistent kids looking to circumvent Screen Time restrictions, but the company has been receiving some criticism for not moving quickly enough to lock down some of the loopholes, reports The Washington Post. A few of the loopholes and ways for parents to shut them down are documented on the site Protect Young Eyes, while these and...
os x mountain lion macs 16x9 2

Apple Makes OS X Lion and Mountain Lion Free to Download

Wednesday June 30, 2021 12:19 pm PDT by
Apple recently dropped the $19.99 fee for OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, making the older Mac updates free to download, reports Macworld. Apple has kept OS X 10.7 Lion and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion available for customers who have machines limited to the older software, but until recently, Apple was charging $19.99 to get download codes for the updates. As of last week, these updates no...