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Mozilla security chief: Apple should open up

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Mozilla's security chief said Apple should disclose more information about the steps it takes to protect customers from malware and other computer-born threats.

At a security conference on Monday, Window Snyder said open communication about recently reported vulnerabilities and ongoing processes for locking down products is a core responsibility of security departments at every software organization. The head of security for Mozilla's Firefox browser then singled out Apple as a vendor with room for improvement.

"I'm big Apple fan - I've got a Mac right here," Snyder said as she gripped her MacBook while speaking at the MIS Training Institute's IT Security World conference in San Francisco. "But one of my big problems with Apple is we don't get to hear what they're doing with security. I'd have a lot more confidence if they would communicate that stuff."

Among developers of mainstream software, Apple's security department is one of the most tight-lipped. Unlike Microsoft, Mozilla and Google, it has no blog devoted to security, and the company rarely responds to reports about vulnerabilities found in its products. As we've pointed out on more than one occasion, the company frequently fails to clearly warn end users of the necessity of promptly installing updates when patching critical security holes.

While Snyder praised much of the behind-the-scenes work of Apple's security professionals, she said it's not enough that the work is carried out in secret.

"Being able to demonstrate that you're doing reasonable things and letting other people evaluate whether or not that's a reasonable process helps us as a security industry develop confidence in them [and] helps consumers recognize that those vendors are doing reasonable things," Snyder said. Referring to software organizations generally, she added: "It's painful if we have to rely on marketing to figure out whether or not something is secure."

Examples of the type of information Snyder said should be more forthcoming is whether Apple's security team is investigating reported vulnerabilities, whether patches to reported vulnerabilities are in the works, and the types of internal processes used to improve the security of major products. She held out Microsoft, her former employer, as an example.

"The security industry developed a lot more confidence in what Microsoft was doing in security because Microsoft started communicating about it and sharing some of the work that they're doing," she said. Holding up Windows Vista, which was developed under Microsoft's secure development lifecycle, she said, "We get to hear from Microsoft about the work they put into it and all the people they engaged to do consulting work and their secure development lifecycle."

She said that's a lost opportunity.

"They have a real opportunity there to show the rest of the security industry what they're doing because I think they are doing good work."

Apple's public relations team didn't respond to a request to comment for this story.

Snyder's comments came during a keynote titled Building Multi-Layer Defenses to Mitigate Threats Attackers Haven't Thought of Yet. In it, she focused on specific steps security professionals can take to proactively protect their users against vulnerabilities and other threats.

While the use of fuzzers, threat modeling, and code review were all mentioned, Snyder's overall theme seemed to be that security teams from various organizations need to work together, especially considering the interconnecting relationship between so many products. She held out last year's vulnerabilities in a so-called URI, or uniform resource identifier as a case in point. Microsoft for months insisted that third-party applications such as Firefox - not its Internet Explorer browser - were responsible for a vulnerability that allowed malicious websites to install malware on end-users' machines.

After much discussion and some criticism of that position, Redmond finally acknowledged IE needed to do a better job preventing malformed data from being passed to applications and patched the browser. ®

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