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Two years later, Apple Safari still open to 'carpet-bombing'

Unlike most 'sane' browsers

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After more than two years, Apple's Safari browser for Macs remains vulnerable to attacks that allow websites to litter a user's hard drive with thousands of malicious files.

The "carpet bomb" vulnerability was publicly disclosed in May 2008 after members of Apple's security team said they didn't consider the quirk a security issue. After Microsoft took the unusual step of advising its customers to stop using Safari, Apple issued a patch Windows versions but not for OS X.

"This means that if you use the Safari browser on OSX, a malicious entity can drop any amount of binaries or data files into your ~/Downloads/ folder," Nitesh Dhanjani, the researcher who credited with discovering the vulnerability, wrote over the weekend.

"This issue is caused because, while most sane web browsers warn the end user and ask for explicit permission before saving a file locally, Safari goes ahead and saves the file into the default download location without asking the user - even if hundreds of files are served up by the malicious website simultaneously."

Apple's dismissal of the advisory probably has something to do with the requirement that users would have to double click on the downloaded file and enter an administrative password before their machines could be hijacked. But as Dhanjani points out, in a world in which state-sponsored attacks and corporate espionage are par for the course, it's never a good idea for outsiders to be able to control the files that are downloaded onto a user's computer.

In the two years since the flaw was disclosed, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome have been updated to protect its users. But so far, while Apple's security has agreed that it might be good if Safari actually checked with the user before downloading potentially unwanted files, it has said only that a fix "could take quite a while, if it ever gets incorporated."

It appears they were true to their word. ®

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