By John Gruber
Journey across Bhutan with Gray Langur. October 16-29, limited availability.
Never one to let actual research or reporting get in the way of a good story, The Register’s Tony Smith published an article about yesterday’s security update, in which he alleges that the update does not block the example exploits published by Unsanity:
We installed the update on a Mac OS X 10.3.4 machine. After restarting the machine, we went straight to Unsanity’s web site, the location of a pair of web pages that test the URI vulnerability. Neither tests was blocked by the update, details of which can be found here.
Unlike Paranoid Android, the code contained in the update remembers applications the user has permitted other applications to open, or those that the user has opened themselves. So it’s possible that the system is allowing access to the test site apps because they have already been run prior to the installation of the update.
In fact, this is exactly what is going on. The new confirmation dialog that Launch Services presents to prevent unknown applications from being launched automatically will only be presented for, well, unknown applications.
In other words, any application that you’ve previously launched is implicitly trusted by Launch Services. This includes the example exploit applications at Unsanity and http://test.doit.wisc.edu/. So if you previously tried these example exploits without disabling the URI protocols they take advantage of, then these examples will still work after installing Security Update 2004-06-07.
To be clear: Security Update 2004-06-07 blocks these example exploits in exactly the way it is supposed to.
The inner workings of Launch Services are not documented publicly. However, it’s clear that Launch Services has always kept track of applications that have been launched. The tracking of previously-launched apps is not new; what’s new is that Launch Services will no longer automatically launch never-before-launched apps without confirmation.
Here’s how I tested this. I have three Macs here, one of which is an older iMac used for testing. That’s the machine I previously used to test example exploits at the aforelinked sites. After installing Security Update 2004-06-07 on this iMac, the example exploits still worked.
I immediately suspected that the problem was that Launch Services “remembered” those apps. Apple does not document where the Launch Services database is stored on disk, but I deleted the following files:
I then restarted the machine. (I believe, but am not sure, that you can’t just log out/in; you need to restart to nuke these files. And, sometimes, the cache file gets written back to the disk after you delete it but before the Mac restarts. I think this is because the “live” Launch Services database is not stored on disk, but rather in memory, and the above files are, as their pathnames indicate, merely caches of this info. I.e. sometimes the old Launch Services database will get rewritten to the cache file before you restart. Sorry for all the wavering vagueness here in this parenthetical; suffice it to say that Launch Services is more or less a black box, but you can delete your existing LS database by deleting these files and restarting, it’s just that sometimes, in my experience, it doesn’t take.)
At this point, after deleting the LS caches and restarting, the example exploits no longer worked on the iMac. On the other two Macs here, neither of which had ever executed the example exploit apps, Security Update 2004-06-07 blocked the exploits as advertised.
Note: I am not advising you to delete your Launch Services cache files. Doing so will almost certainly do you no good whatsoever.
The same site provides Paranoid Android, a utility that halts attempts to open apps from URIs and offers the user the choice of proceeding with the attempt or to cancel it.
That’s not what Paranoid Android does. Paranoid Android prevents all “untrusted” URI protocols from working without confirmation, including protocols which have nothing to do with the launching of applications.
Security Update 2004-06-07 does the same thing, but on our system it failed to do so.
Security Update 2004-06-07 is not at all like Paranoid Android. Paranoid Android takes sweeping measures, by default, blocking all URIs other than ‘http’, ‘https’, and ‘mailto’. Security Update 2004-06-07, on the other hand, makes a surgically precise modification to the previous (vulnerable) behavior of Launch Services: it only kicks in when Launch Services has been asked to automatically launch a never-before-launched application.
Users who prefer a ‘belts and braces’ approach to security may wish to stick with Paranoid Android, but we’d certainly recommend installing the new update in any case.
Bad advice. Even Unsanity agrees that Paranoid Android is obsoleted by Security Update 2004-06-07:
UPDATE: Security Update 2004-06-07 fixes the issues Paranoid Android was created to address. After installing the Security Update, you can safely uninstall Paranoid Android.
Of course, Unsanity doesn’t tell you how to uninstall Paranoid
Android. (The Uninstall button in their installer only removes the
Paranoid Android haxie module; it doesn’t remove any of the
Application Enhancer detritus spread across your top-level
/System folders (you did know that Application
Enhancer installs a bundle within your
/System folder, right?).
Anyway, after running the uninstall command in the Paranoid Android
installer, you can uninstall the rest of the Application Enhancer
software using the Uninstall button in the Information tab of the
APE Manager panel in System Prefs). But you shouldn’t have to worry
about that, because you didn’t install Paranoid Android.