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Tuesday March 7, 2006 8:45 pm

Mac OS X: Hacked Root In Less Than 30 Minutes

Mac OS X FireWindows detractors are generally more than happy to point fingers at Microsoft’s failings in making their operating systems secure.  It’s hard to blame them, as it does seem that barely a day goes by without some new exploit popping up.  However, one has to look at the percentages of installed systems.  With Microsoft products commanding the vast majority of the market share, they make prime targets for anyone with too much free time or a grudge to bear.  In contrast, Mac OS X and Linux seem to blend quietly into the background noise, with nary a peep to be heard with regards to security problems.  Okay, that’s oversimplifying things a tad, but the basic idea remains the same - Microsoft products appear to have more security holes than their competitive counterparts due in part to market share and their public presence. 

As a case in point, an obliging Mac user set a Mac mini up and told would-be hackers to give it their best shot.  Within six hours, the mini had been compromised and root-level access obtained.  Total time to actually hack the mini?  Less than 30 minutes.  Granted, there aren’t a lot of details as to patch level, security measures taken, etc., but the hacker claimed the use of an unpublished hack that would have worked regardless of counter-measures implemented.

With regards to recent viruses and exploits related to Mac OS X, a senior director of Symantec’s Security Response Division is quoted as saying, “The lesson here is that if we look at Mac OS X and compare it to, say, Windows XP, we find that, in terms of the number of vulnerabilities, they are actually quite comparable.” 

Keep in mind that we’re not out to bash the Mac by any means, and many Gear Live members love the Mac.  Would an equivalently configured Windows or Linux system have fared any better?  Not likely.  Therefore it’s important to be mindful, that regardless of your operating system of choice, security holes do exist and it’s better to be as prepared as possible than sorry due to blissful ignorance. 

EDIT: Turns out, this is a lot less important that it first seemed. Check out the comments section, and you will find that the “hack” was made to be extremely simple - this is not something that took place in a real-world scenario.

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<a href=“http://www.tuaw.com/2006/03/07/another-look-at-mac-os-x-security/”>Damien Barrett</a> over at TUAW has a good explanation about Mac OS X security as it relates to the article and contest in question.
<blockquote>This violates the very first and most important rule of securing a computer, by giving external access to users who shouldn’t have it and don’t need it. I certainly don’t go around enabling SSH for my Mac users, do you? For the record, SSH (called Remote Access in FileSharing System Preference) is disabled by default on Mac OS X workstations, and on Mac OS X Tiger Server, there’s even a GUI for allowing or disabling SSH access to different users. Mac OS X workstation users can modify the sshd_config file in /etc.</blockquote>

As pointed out by bob, a real academic <a href=“http://test.doit.wisc.edu/”>Mac OS X Security Test</a> is being held and will conclude tonight.

Any exploits will then be reported to be fixed and no SSH access is given to would be attackers.

Security, no matter which system, should be taken lightly so by no means is all this an attempt to claim Mac OS X is completely secure so everyone that runs Mac OS X should take <a href=“http://www.macgeekery.com/tips/security/basic_mac_os_x_security”>measures to secure it</a>. Both from outside attackers and against someone trying to access your computer physically.

Not sure how this article shows a lack of integrity - it’s not like we were trying to lie. That is why Oscar (the commenter above you) left his informational comment - he is one of our editors, chiming in to add the information that the original author didn’t have.

If we lacked integrity, I would think we would be deleting all these comments so that our story wouldn’t be questioned. We aren’t like that though.

I’d also like to point out that reference was made to the fact that we weren’t sure of the exact configuration of the machine when it was hacked.

There was no attempt made to mislead the reader into believing that the machine was fully secure, no open ports, all patched up, etc.

Done wink

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