By Robert McMillan
August 02, 2006
IDG News Service
Security researchers David Maynor and Jon Ellch performed a digital
drive-by Wednesday at the Black Hat USA conference. Their target: an Apple
Computer Inc. MacBook.
The two researchers have found ways to seize control of laptop computers
by manipulating buggy code in wireless device drivers. In a videotaped
demonstration at the conference, Manor showed how to use sophisticated
hacking tools to add and remove files on a Wi-Fi enabled MacBook,
manipulating the system from an adjacent laptop computer.
Wireless devices are designed to be constantly sniffing for new networks,
and this can lead to security problems, especially if their driver
software is buggy.
This can often happen as vendors rush to implement the complex wireless
standards, said Ellch, a student at the U.S. Naval postgraduate school in
Monterey, Calif. "A lot of hardware manufacturers have to ship stuff
quickly," he said. "One of the things that gets sacrificed in the speed
game is security."
Apple is not the only vendor to have problems with its wireless drivers,
said Maynor, who is a researcher with SecureWorks Inc. By exploiting bugs
in four different wireless cards, the researchers found ways to seize
control of laptops running Windows and Linux as well, they said.
"Don't think that just because we're attacking Apple that the flaw itself
is in Apple," Maynor said. "We wanted to do some other demos and they
weren't panning out."
However, Maynor said that the researchers knew that if they showed their
demonstration on a Mac OS X system -- generally considered to be a very
secure platform -- that show attendees would take their findings
The idea of poking a hole in Apple's current advertising campaign, which
smugly boasts that Mac OS X is more secure than Windows, also appears to
have been a factor. "I've got to be honest, those Mac commercials, they
just jump right out at you," Maynor told attendees during his
The researchers are now working with Apple to fix the problems, which may
involve both operating system and driver patches, according to Maynor.
Apple declined to comment for this story.
The Black Hat demonstration came just days after Intel Corp. issued
patches for wireless driver flaws that could lead to the same problems
that the researchers demonstrated in Las Vegas.
Maynor and Ellch could not say whether Intel's patches addressed flaws
that they had discovered, but they said that they had not worked with the
chipmaker on these fixes.
It is possible that the Intel patches were released in anticipation of
their talk, the researchers said. Still, both men praised Intel for
addressing driver security. "You have to admire a company that would
proactively fix things before a talk instead of waiting until afterward,"
Maynor and Ellch's presentation got high marks from last year's
most-talked-about Black Hat presenter, Michael Lynn, who was sued by Cisco
after disclosing vulnerabilities in Cisco's Internetworking Operating
System. "That was pretty awesome," Lynn said, as the two were mobbed by
show attendees after their talk.
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