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Mac, Windows QuickTime Flaw Opens 'Month Of Apple Bugs'

The exploit could be used by attackers to compromise, hijack, or infect computers running either Windows or Mac OS X.

Gregg Keizer

January 2, 2007

3 Min Read

The Month of Apple Bugs project kicked off Monday by posting a zero-day vulnerability in Apple's QuickTime media player. It also posted an exploit that could be used by attackers to compromise, hijack, or infect computers running either Windows or Mac OS X.

The Month of Apple Bugs (MoAB), which will announce a new security vulnerability in Apple's operating system or other Mac OS X software each day in January, is a follow-on to November's "Month of Kernel Bugs" campaign, and is co-hosted by that project's poster, a hacker who goes by the initials "LMH," and a partner, Kevin Finisterre, a researcher who has posted numerous Mac vulnerabilities and analyses on his own site.

The debut vulnerability is in QuickTime 7's parsing of RTSP (RealTime Streaming Protocol); the protocol is used to transmit streaming audio, video, and 3-D animation over the Web. Users duped into clicking on an overlong rtsp:// link could find their PCs or Macs compromised. It also may be possible to automatically trigger an attack simply by enticing users to a malicious Web site.

"Exploitation of this issue is trivial," said LMH in the vulnerability's write-up on the MoAB Web site. The associated exploit code has been tested on Mac OS X running on Intel-based systems, and works against QuickTime 7.1.3, the current version of the player, LMH and Finisterre said.

Other security researchers rang alarms Tuesday. Danish vulnerability tracker Secunia, for example, pegged the bug as "highly critical," the second-from-the-top threat in its five-step score, and Symantec alerted customers of its DeepSight threat network of the vulnerability.

An Apple spokesman declined to confirm the vulnerability, or, if it was legitimate, when the flaw might be fixed. In an e-mail, he said that "Apple takes security very seriously and has a great track record of addressing potential vulnerabilities before they can affect users. We always welcome feedback on how to improve security on the Mac."

LMH, who didn't immediately reply to several questions sent via e-mail, said on the MoAB site that Apple's Mac OS X operating system was chosen as the target for the month of vulnerabilities because "we like to play with OS X, we enjoy hate e-mail, and it's not as crowded as (random software vendor), yet. Thus, it's really comfortable for research and there's so much to be worked out."

He also said that Apple -- and other vendors whose Mac OS X applications might be the focus of a bug posted during the month's run -- would not be notified in most cases before the information went live, and dismissed that practice. "The point is releasing them without vendor notification. The problem with so-called 'responsible disclosure' is that for some people, it means keeping others on hold for insane amounts of time, even when the fix should be trivial. And the reward (automated responses and euphemism-heavy advisories) doesn't pay off in the end."

LMH, Finisterre, and commercial security vendors recommended that users cripple QuickTime's ability to process rtsp:// links. In Windows, launch QuickTime, select Edit|Preferences|QuickTime Preferences, click the File Types tab, expand Streaming, and clear the box marked "RTSP stream descriptor." In Mac OS X, select System Preferences|QuickTime|Advanced|MIME Settings|Streaming|Streaming Movies and clear the "RTSP stream descriptor" box.

Apple's QuickTime was last in the news during December, when a bug in the player was exploited by fraudsters on MySpace. That vulnerability remains unpatched.

LMH expects to see more QuickTime attacks now that his newest flaw has gone public. He said, "It's a matter of time to see this getting abused in the wild."

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