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Apple patch fiasco invites trouble

It's just a matter of time...

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According to the Apple website, Security Update 2005-007 was released to the public on August 12, 2005. And, as with all of their recent security updates, it is available to all Apple customers free of charge. I'm sure none of you reading this article will argue with me about that being a good thing.

For those of you that remember, Apple included some security patches in their release of Mac OS X Panther in 2003. These security patches were originally exclusive to Panther, and users of Mac OS X Jaguar were unable to obtain these updates without paying for an upgrade to the newer version. Whether this was done intentionally or not is still a mystery, as updates were released for Jaguar after various discussions in the media and within the security industry caused enough backlash to force a change.

What's interesting here is that Apple has chosen to release updates for both the most and second-most current release of their operating system since this initial incident in 2003. As an example, this most recent Security Update contains updates for Tiger (10.4.x), as well as Panther (10.3.x). This is a good thing, and shows that the Apple product security team is making changes and evolving to fit the needs of their customers.

However, Apple still has a long way to go. The time that it takes Apple to release patches for some publicly disclosed vulnerabilities in open source components of their operating systems is nothing less than abysmal, and it's only a matter of time before continued evolution of their security practices can be preemptive, and not reactionary.

We'll release when we're ready

On the Apple Product Security web page, the following is written with regard to Apple's policy on security notifications for their products.

"For the protection of our customers, Apple does not disclose, discuss or confirm security issues until a full investigation has occurred and any necessary patches or releases are available."

This policy is similar to that used by Microsoft, who only recently began to release interim "Security Advisories" for certain events, including the public confirmation of vulnerabilities for which no patch is available.

The fact is, these operating system vendors can take a long time to patch security vulnerabilities once they're notified of the problem. Unfortunately, there's a big difference between Apple and Microsoft when it comes to bugs in their operating system. I would argue that Microsoft is in a far more advantageous position, oddly enough, because their operating system doesn't contain so much open source software.

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