Black Hat: Apple does well, Microsoft does better with enterprise security

While still not great, the operating systems behind Apple desktops, laptops and phones are getting more secure, researchers at Black Hat say.

While not recommended for corporate use unless it’s in islands within larger networks, the Mac OS X operating system has made strides, says Alex Stamos, who lead a team of researchers from iSec Partners that researched the OS X and Windows 7 operating systems.

Their conclusion is that Apple does pretty well, but Microsoft wins. Even so, earlier versions of Apple’s software were more vulnerable to initial exploitation than Windows 7, but the latest Apple version known as Lion makes up ground.

Escalating privileges remains a problem on both operating systems, he says, with OS X having more potential soft spots than Windows 7. But when it comes to network vulnerabilities, Apple is the loser. “OS X networks are significantly more vulnerable to network privilege escalation,” he says. “Almost every OS X server service offers weak or broken authentication mechanisms.”

Despite commonly held beliefs that Apple products draw less attention from attackers, some statistics seem to buck that notion, he says. For example, over the past three years, 1,151 common vulnerabilities and exposures (major bugs) have affected Apple products, including third-party software. The number for Windows is 1,325, not that much higher, Stamos says.

Lion has made strides with the addition of an application sandbox that keeps applications isolated so if malicious executables boot up, they are contained, he says.

On the mobile side, independent researcher Dino Dai Zovi says iOS does a pretty good job running applications in a sandbox. The operating system has a dynamic signing feature for applications in which the device itself has to approve applications before running them, not just accepting the Apple certificate that says they are approved.

He says BlackBerries have better data protection than iOS, but they lack a sandbox for running applications. He says that Google’s Android mobile operating system is more vulnerable than iOS. Android is about as secure as a jailbroken iPhone that has lost many of its security features by virtue of being jailbroken, he says.

Subscribe to the Help Desk Newsletter

Comments