These days, more organizations then ever are adopting Macs as endpoint clients. Some types of users have long used Macs anyway, notably those in graphic design, sound and video production, and other artistic functions within marketing and other business unit teams. However, the mainstream adoption of Macs is happening rapidly for all types of users, and a mix of Windows and Mac workstations and laptops is more common than ever before.
Many Mac users and IT admins have long felt that Macs are inherently more secure than Windows and other endpoint systems. This is primarily due to its Gatekeeper system that acts as a foundational whitelisting tool for applications and code downloaded from the Internet, and its restrictive approach to the App Store that prevents rogue applications from being downloaded. Apple also includes built-in encryption, firewall capabilities, and automatic updates.
However, in recent years, Mac systems have suffered from several very high profile flaws that are severe, sometimes allowing attackers to potentially hijack the entire OS. In February of 2014, Apple’s OS X and iOS platforms were both found to be vulnerable to a major flaw in SSL handling that could expose users’ confidential information in the clear when they thought they were browsing securely.
At the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas in 2015, researchers are demonstrating a new firmware-focused attack on Mac OS X Thunderbolt devices that attackers can use to escalate privileges on devices, as well.
There are many additional avenues of privilege misuse and access, as Emil Kvarnhammar disclosed in April 2015 when he found several privileged API calls that could grant an attacker root control over systems.
In addition to flaws like these, Macs have also been plagued with more malware and spyware, usually propagated by tricking users into installing malicious software or by way of vulnerable plugins.
Perhaps one of the biggest inherent issues with the way Mac OS X is built, however, is its default privilege allocation model. As a system largely built for consumers (in the past, anyway), OS X usually adopts a “full admin” privilege model for its initial user (defined as the Administrator), and things tend to stay that way over time. In fact, many default users set up auto-login for this Admin user, and so there is not even a requirement to enter credentials upon booting the system! What this reflects is a step backward in managing endpoint privileges altogether. The security community has been fighting for years to get default admin privileges taken away from endpoint users on Windows, and we’ve finally started to make some headway. With the addition of Macs into the enterprise, we’re back at square one - default admin privileges, granting attackers full control of any system they can compromise through spyware, browser plugins, or other more sophisticated methods.
Join me in this upcoming webinar
with BeyondTrust to delve into the history of Mac OS X security, with a focus on current attack vectors, known exploits, and the persistent issue of default admin privileges that have come back to plague us yet again.
Want to learn more? Watch this webinar on-demand
Author/Presenter: Dave Shackleford, SANS Instructor