Apple issues massive security update for Mac OS X

Updates the largest released by Apple in nearly a year.

Apple today issued multiple updates for Mac OS X and Java that patched 55 bugs, including one for its Safari Web browser that prompted a security researcher to blast the company for a half-hearted approach to security.

The updates were the largest released by Apple in nearly a year.

The year's first bug updates from Apple patched 48 security vulnerabilities in the company's operating system and its components, four in Apple's implementation of Sun Microsystems's Java, two non-security flaws it admitted it had introduced with faulty code in Mac OS X 10.5.6, and one fix it said was a "proactive security measure." The majority of the bugs -- 32 altogether -- were in open-source components or software not originally crafted by Apple, as in the case of the quartet of Java flaws.

But the Safari vulnerability may be the one most people remember.

According to Brian Masterbrook, one of the three researchers Apple credited with reporting the Safari bug, Apple had information about the flaw more than seven months ago. "After six months passed without a fix, I decided to post a warning on January 11, 2009, due to my judgment that this issue could be exploited at any time as long as it remained unfixed," Masterbrook said in an entry to his blog Thursday , after Apple had delivered its updates. Masterbrook had posted some information about the bug, as well as a workaround to temporarily disable the RSS feed feature in the browser, in a Jan. 11 warning .

The RSS vulnerability -- present in both the Mac and Windows versions of the browser -- could be used to introduce attack code from a malicious Web site. All criminals had to do, said Masterbrook, was dupe users into visiting such a site. Attacks based on tempting users to a rogue site are commonplace on the Internet, although the vast majority of them are aimed at Windows users.

"This vulnerability...does not require intricate knowledge of the processor or operating system to exploit," Masterbrook said today. "I discovered it accidentally, which indicates that this issue could also be discovered by others. These two factors should have indicated to Apple that this vulnerability carried a high risk."

He took Apple to task for the way it handles reports of security vulnerabilities, and patches its software. "It took seven months for Apple to patch this latest vulnerability in Safari, despite numerous opportunities for it to be addressed in updates that were already scheduled," he said. "OS X users are at this point in the unenviable situation of hoping that Apple starts taking these issues more seriously before phishing exploits, drive-by malware, and viruses become widespread on the platform."

Apple addressed the Safari flaw in both the Security Update 2009-001 for Mac OS X , and in a separate update for Windows users that bumped up the browser to Version 3.2.2. While recent data puts Safari's overall browser usage share at 8.3%, the Windows edition accounted for a scant 0.3% last month, about a quarter the share of Google's Chrome.

The company last patched Safari in November 2008, when it updated the browser twice in less than two weeks to plug more than a dozen holes.

Other parts of Mac OS X that Apple patched today ranged from the Pixlet codec -- which contained a bug that could be triggered by a malformed movie file -- and the Folder Manager to the printing module and Remote Apple Events, which could be exploited to steal information.

The separate Java updates -- one aimed at Mac OS X 10.4, a.k.a. Tiger, the other targeting Mac OS X 10.5, or Leopard -- fixed four vulnerabilities for each version of Apple's operating system, and brought the software up to par with patches Sun released two months ago .

Security Update 2009-001 and the Java updates can be downloaded manually from the Apple site or installed using Mac OS X's built-in patch service. Safari 3.2.2 for Windows can be downloaded from the Apple site.

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Gregg Keizer

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