Apple asks security researchers to dig into Mac OS X Lion

Apple has never had particularly warm relations with the computer security community, and has been frustratingly tight-lipped about the status of known problems and vulnerabilities in Mac OS X: sometimes Apple jumps right on top of security problems in Mac OS X, and sometimes they linger unpatched for months. However, the company may be trying to turn over a new leaf with its forthcoming Mac OS X Lion: it’s asking security researches for feedback on the developer release of Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion”—and offering free copies if they aren’t in Apple’s developer program.

Several Mac securuty researchers have reported that they’ve been contacted by Apple about trying out the new Lion preview release. The releases come with a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent security researchers from publicly discussing any flaws or concerns they might find. Apple has said that it planned many under-the-hood improvements to improve security in Mac OS X Lion, although it has not been specific about its plans. Some Apple-watchers have expected Mac OS X 10.7 to include address space layout randomization—ASLR—which re-arranges key areas of memory in an unpredictable manner to reduce potential threats from buffer overflows and other vulnerabilities. Microsoft Windows has had full ASLR since the release of Windows Vista; Apple’s current OS, Mac OS X 10.6, implements partial ASLR.

Researchers who have confirmed receiving invitations to look at Lion include Dai Zovi and Charlie Miller, co-authors of The Mac Hacker’s Handbook. Miller is particularly well-known for being unimpressed with Mac OS X security, having won prizes in the last three Pwn2Own contests by exploiting hols in Apple’s Safari browser and Mac OS X—in one case, in less than 10 seconds. Miller also demonstrated an SMS processing vulnerability that potentially enabled attackers to complete take over the Apple iPhone, and even launch attacks on other phones.

Apple has said it intends to release Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” to consumers this summer.

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