An Ounce of Prevention

[Update 7 June: I’ve modified the instructions on this page considerably in the wake of Security Update 2004-06-07, which closes all of the known vulnerabilities. The instructions on this page are current and up-to-date. If you’d like to see last revision of this document prior to today’s update, click here.]

In a nutshell, here is my advice for how to close the various URI-related vulnerabilities in Mac OS X. For more details, see my previous articles:

This page is intended to serve as a consolidated, comprehensive, and to-the-point list of instructions for closing all known URI-related vulnerabilities affecting Mac OS X. If new information or exploits are identified, I plan to revise this document in-place.

  1. If you haven’t done so already, install Security Update 2004-05-24. This fixes the Help Viewer ‘help:runscript’ vulnerability.

  2. If you’re running Panther, upgrade to version 10.3.4 using Software Update. 10.3.4 contains an updated version of Terminal which closed the ‘telnet’ vulnerability.

    (If you’re running Jaguar, the ‘telnet’ vulnerability was closed in Software Update 2004-05-24.)

  3. Install Security Update 2004-06-07. This update closes all known remaining vulnerabilities. See Apple’s Knowledge Base article for details of how they’ve closed the URI/Launch Services vulnerabilities.

If you follow these three steps, my testing indicates that you’ll be protected from all of the vulnerabilities publicized in the last month. (Note to Jaguar users: you must upgrade to 10.2.8 in order to install Apple’s recent security updates. This is a free update; all previous versions of Jaguar, 10.2.0 - 10.2.7, will remain vulnerable to these exploits. 10.2.8 is the only version of Jaguar that is supported by Apple.)

To be cautious, you might still want to turn off Safari’s “Open ‘safe’ files after downloading” preference (or keep it turned off if you unchecked it a few weeks ago, when these problems surfaced). Although there are no remaining vulnerabilities I’m aware of that can be abused using this preference, I think it’s unwise to think there exists such a thing as a “safe file” that can be opened automatically after downloading it.


  • RCDefaultApp to disable URI protocols such as ‘afp’, ‘disk’, and ‘disks’? Do I need to re-enable these?

    Security Update 2004-06-07 removes the ‘disk’ and ‘disks’ protocols from your Launch Services database. These protocols are no longer handled automatically by DiskImageMounter, thus, you no longer need to worry about them.

    As for ‘ftp’ and ‘afp’, you can now safely re-assign these URIs to the Finder if you want. However, I still think a dedicated FTP application (such as Interarchy or Transmit) is a better choice for FTP. If you don’t know for a fact that you need ‘afp’ URIs, you almost certainly don’t need to worry about them.

  • What’s the best resource with innocuous example exploits using these techniques? has example exploits for downloaded zip archives and disk images, and for the ‘afp’, ‘disk’, and ‘ftp’ protocols.

    My testing, on three separate Macs, indicates that by following the above instructions, all of these example exploits have been closed.