Researcher: Mac OS, Linux probably have URI issues too

Security researchers hope to show how URI protocol handler flaws affect platforms like Linux and Mac OS X.

Microsoft will patch Windows to reduce the risk of a new kind of Web-based security vulnerability, but security researchers say that other operating systems are probably at risk too.

In fact, Nathan McFeters, one of the researchers who has been studying the problem most closely, said he hoped to [present] more details on how other Unix-based operating systems like Linux and Mac OS X might also be susceptible to what were known as Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) protocol handler flaws at the Toorcon hacking conference, being held next week in San Diego.

In an interview, McFeters said that he had not yet found a way to run unauthorised code on Unix-based operating systems, but that he and his fellow researchers had discovered a number of issues that looked like they could be grounds for further research.

The problem McFeters and others have been researching over the past few months has to do with the URI protocol handling technology, used to launch programs from within Web browsers. Probably the best known of these protocols is mailto, which is used to launch the mail client from within the browser.

But any software developer can register their own application with the operating system. This leads to a somewhat risky state of affairs as programs are launched within the browser, sometimes without proper checks on the way they are being executed.

To date, hackers have found ways to run unauthorised software on the PC by sneaking commands into specially crafted Web links that use the URI protocols of several well-known applications. Microsoft had originally said that it was up to software developers to make sure their programs check the links so that they don't include malicious code, but this week it agreed to put some checks within the Windows operating system as well.

McFeters, a security researcher with Ernst & Young Global, said that often these protocols were registered unnecessarily and with little thought given to security. Even if it couldn't be used to install unauthorised software, a poorly designed URI protocol registration could end up giving attackers access to data and applications that they shouldn't be able to see, he said.

Last month, McFeters and Researcher Billy Rios [showed] how a flaw in Google's Picasa software could give an attacker access to any Picasa photos stored on the victim's hard drive. And URI protocol handler flaws have also been found in Adobe, Firefox and Outlook Express.

Secunia ApS chief technology officer, Thomas Kristensen, agreed that the URI protocol handler problems would probably turn up on Linux and Mac OS X. "There is absolutely a chance that similar issues could exist on those platforms," he said. Kristensen also agreed with McFeters that too many programs needlessly registered protocols and urged corporate and commercial software developers to reduce their reliance on this technique. "When people are designing the applications they're simply not thinking about how secure the environment is and how it's really working," he said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?