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Apple security lags (again) with critical Java patches

A month late, an OS short

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Comment Apple is once again playing security catch-up to the rest of the computing world, this time with an update for the Leopard version of its Mac operating system that patches critical holes in Java that were fixed on competing systems 29 days ago.

The patch updates Leopard to Java versions 1.6.0_15, 1.5.0_20, and 1.4.2_22, which Java creator Sun Microsystems released on August 5. No doubt, the four-week turn-around time is better than an update from June, when Apple trailed Sun by six months, but it's still problematic.

What's more, according to these specifications Apple posted in June, Tiger - the Mac OS X version that predated Leopard - continues to use Java versions 1.5.0_19 and 1.4.2_21, the same buggy iterations it warns could allow attackers to hijack end-user machines.

"Multiple vulnerabilities exist in Java 1.5.0_19, the most serious of which may allow an untrusted Java applet to obtain elevated privileges," Apple said in Thursday's advisory. "Visiting a web page containing a maliciously crafted untrusted Java applet may lead to arbitrary code execution with the privileges of the current user."

The advisory uses the same language to warn about vulnerabilities in Java 1.4.2_21.

It wouldn't be surprising for Apple to issue an update patching vulnerable Tiger machines soon. But a delay is nonetheless problematic in that it's a tacit admission from Apple - a company that repeatedly flogs the security superiority of its products - that an OS it continues to support is susceptible to vulnerabilities even its own engineers say puts its users at considerable peril.

The larger issue is that Apple continues to lag well behind its peers in fixing critical security bugs in a piece of software that runs on a majority of the world's computers and whose mantra is "write once run anywhere."

The Apple marketing machine can say what it wants about the supposed security of its products. And as we pointed out last week, the company has plenty to be proud of in Snow Leopard, its latest and greatest Mac OS. But until the company does a better job of keeping up with the rest of the pack updating OS X Java, Mac users are being needlessly exposed to serious threats. And no advertising campaign can change that. ®

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