if you haven’t already heard, Apple admitted to what has been discovered to be a serious security flaw on Friday.
Essentially, for some of the more careful kinds of security, the flaw would allow an attacker to conduct a Man-in-the-Middle attack when you were sending or receiving data via an Apple operating system. Apple’s announcement Friday pertained to just iOS. But security researchers quickly discovered that the bug affects recent releases of OSX as well. And even if you’re using Chrome or Firefox, the bug may affect underlying applications.
In the wake of the Snowden revelations, the discovery of the bug raises questions about how it got there. Langley thinks it was a mistake. Steve Bellovin does too, though does note that targeting Perfect Forward Security is precisely what a determined hacker, including a nation-state’s SIGINT agency, would need to compromise. Others are raising more questions.
But whether or not this is an intentional backdoor into the security protecting users of most of Apple’s most recent devices, I’m just as interested in Apple’s response … both to the public report, almost 6 months ago, that,
US and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
And to its discovery — reportedly perhaps as long as a few weeks ago — that it had this serious bug.
Now, if I were a leading device/consumer products company with an incentive to get consumers deeper into the cloud and living further and further online, particularly if I were a leading device/consumer products company sitting on mountains and mountains of cash, upon reading the report last September, I would throw bodies at my code to make sure I really was providing the security my customers needed to sustain trust. And given that this is a key part of the security on which that trust relies, I would think the mountains of cash device/consumer products company might have found this bug.
According to rumors, at least, this bug was not found by Apple with all its mountains and mountains of cash; it was found by a researcher.
Then there’s the radio silence Apple has maintained since issuing its alert about iOS on Friday. It told Reuters over the weekend that it would have a fix to the OSX bug “soon,” so it has, effectively acknowledged that it’s there. But it has not issued an official statement.
It just seems to me there is little that can explain issuing Friday’s security alert — alerting everyone, including potential hackers, that the problem is there, which quickly led to the independent identification of the OSX problem — without at the same time rolling out an OSX announcement and alert. Admitting to the iOS error effectively led to OSX users being exposed to people responding to the announcement. Millions of Apple customers are even further exposed, until such time as Apple rolls out a fix (though you might consider doing your banking on a browser other than Safari to give yourself a tiny bit of protection until that point).
The only thing I can think of that would explain Apple’s actions is if the security researcher who found this bug gave them limited warning, before her or she would have published it.
Otherwise, though, I’m as interested in the explanation for Apple’s two-step rollout of this bug fix as I am in how it got there in the first place.