Build The Ultimate Quad-Core Desktop With Intel's QX9770

Information Week
InformationWeek Daily - Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Editor's Note

Security Showdown: OS X Caves First, Vista Buckles (Due To Flash), Ubuntu Wins

At the 2008 edition of the PWN to OWN security showdown, an Ubuntu distribution of GNU Linux took top honors after Apple's Mac OS X and Microsoft's Windows Vista eventually caved under hacker pressure. All OSes were up-to-date with the latest patches.

According to Ars Technica:

All [OSes] held out for the first day of the contest (remotely exploitable vulnerabilities), and so the rules were relaxed on the second day to also include any default installed client-side applications. This led to a quick compromise of Safari, and therefore of the MacBook Air laptop....On the third day, the rules were changed again: "popular" third-party client applications were added to the mix, and this is where Vista's security features could not keep up.....[due to a] previously undiscovered flaw in the latest version of Adobe's Flash software...

Shorly after last year's PWN to OWN contest, Apple was left holding the bag and had to patch Quicktime. This year, it looks like Safari was the culprit and Apple will once again issue a patch as a result of the competition.

Meanwhile, it's unknown whether the vulnerability in Safari that led to a compromise of Mac OS X will have any impact on the version of Safari that was recently issued for Windows.

Still, the key take-aways from the competition in my estimation were (1) OS X had some insecurities coming right out of the box (since Safari comes built-in to OS X) and (2) third-party applications like Adobe's Flash are still capable of introducing vulnerabilities to Windows. Clearly, the former is less acceptable than the latter. But I'd argue that the latter is even more insidious because of how it means malware could intentionally open the same back doors that Adobe's Flash did. To be fair, OS X buckled early enough in the hacking that it was never determined if third party apps could introduce new vulnerabilities as well. The way the competition works, as soon as a hacker compromises the security of the system, that OS is eliminated from the competition and the hacker gets to keep the system.

One suggestion that I routinely make to all Vista users: run Vista as a lesser privileged user. In other words, as a non-administrator. I'm not sure if doing so would have prevented any exploits due to the Flash-vulnerability that was discovered at CanSecWest, but there really are very few penalties for running Vista as a non-administrator (well, there's one very annoying one where end-users can't stop their system from auto-rebooting after a Windows Update).

To read more about the contest, and leave your $0.02, visit the InformationWeek Blog.

David Berlind
[email protected]

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