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Attackers pass on OS, aim for drivers and apps
Robert Lemos, SecurityFocus 2006-08-03

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While Apple has frequently been criticized by security researchers over the difficulty many flaw finders have found in reporting vulnerabilities to the company, the Mac maker responded quickly to the report filed by Maynor and "johnny cache," the duo said.

The duo found that they could fingerprint more than a dozen wireless chips and their associated firmware just by eavesdropping on the wireless traffic. Using the information and a database of driver flaws found by a homegrown data-fuzzing tool, Maynor and "johnny cache" could compromise not just a MacBook but also Linux and Windows XP laptops, the duo claimed.

"While we attacked an Apple, the flaws are not in the Mac OS X operating system but in the hardware device drivers," Maynor told SecurityFocus.

On Wednesday, Intel released a major fix for vulnerabilities in its Centrino wireless drivers. The massive fix was about "the size of a Windows service pack," Maynor said, and was not related to the Black Hat presentation.

The fuzzing techniques used by the pair of researchers discovered mostly flaws that could be used to cause a denial-of-service. Only a few flaws could be exploited to compromise a computer system.

"It is a very high crash-to-exploitable ratio," Maynor told SecurityFocus. "There are a lot of things in the 802.11 stack that can lead to a blue screen rather than an exploitable condition."

The two researchers did not show off the Apple MacBook exploit live at the conference, but in a video of the actual attack. They worried that security researchers could sniff the attack and duplicate it.

Tipping off attackers is a worry for Matasano's Ptacek and Goldsmith as well. The two avoided mentioning specifics about the software agents they audited or the PC makers affected by the vulnerabilities. Both cases signal a race between the software vendors and would-be attackers that might use the techniques, said Ptacek.

"Attackers have not heard about this stuff yet," he said. "When that changes, it is a worry, because it's so simple to find these flaws."

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