Thursday, April 8, 2010

Macintosh = Hacker-Proof?

Charlie Miller has a habit of upending Apple's security claims.

Charlie A. Miller loves his Macbook Pro laptop. And his four other Apple ( AAPL - news - people ) PCs, the iPhone he uses daily and two older iPhones he keeps for tinkering. But his relationship with the company that created those gadgets is somewhat more complicated.

In March, for instance, the 36-year-old security researcher publicized his discovery of 20 security vulnerabilities in Apple's software. Each would allow a cybercriminal to take over the computer of a user who's tricked into opening a certain PDF attachment or who simply visits an infected Web page using Apple's Safari browser.

That haul of bugs is a record even for Miller, who over the last four years has become perhaps the world's most prominent Mac hacker. It may also be definitive proof that Apple devices aren't safe "right out of the box," as the company has claimed for years. "When I first began saying that Macs were less secure than Windows, everyone thought I was an idiot," says Miller. "So I had to prove it again and again and again."

In 2007 Miller became the first to hack the iPhone, using a flaw in its Safari browser to remotely gain control of the not-so-smart phone. Six months later he hacked a Macbook Air in two minutes at a competition in Vancouver. Last summer he revealed a method that allowed him to virally hijack the iPhone using text messages spread via a user's contact list.

Miller says his latest research doesn't aim to show off his elite hacking skills,most of which he learned over five years as a global network exploitation analyst for the National Security Agency. Instead, he wants to show just how easy it is to find chinks in the armor of commonly used software. Miller used a technique known as "dumb fuzzing" to find flaws. He ran the procedure more persistently than most hackers, leaving his fuzzing program to throw junk information at each target for three weeks before mining the data for exploitable flaws.

As for Apple, Miller says the company has learned to accept, if not appreciate, his work. He usually gives Apple weeks of notice before publicly describing its bugs. "They're always very polite," he says. "But I suspect they wish I didn't exist."

Read the full story at by Andy Greenberg

Apple Patches Pwn2Own Bug

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