Enterprises advised to exercise care in using Apple products

Company remains silent regarding flaws, up to third-party researchers to sniff them out

Apple security

While Apple's recent security flub could have happened to any vendor, enterprises should take note of the computer maker's shortcomings in fixing a flaw that heightened the risk of using Apple products.

[Mac users warned against using public Wi-Fi networks]

On Tuesday, Apple released the last fix for a code error that broke the company's implementation of the SSL protocol used to secure communications over the Internet. Apple released a patch for iOS devices over the weekend and the more recent fix for Mac OS X.

Experts agree that the snafu, which involved repeating the code "goto fail" in two lines in a row, should have been caught while testing the two operating systems before their release. However, mistakes happen constantly in coding, which is why patch releases are regular events for Microsoft products, Adobe's Flash and Oracle' Java.

"It just reiterates the fact that they (Apple) are human," Tyler Shields, analyst for Forrester Research, said.

Where Apple is unique in failing business customers is in remaining silent on vulnerabilities, leaving all details on flaws to come from third-party researchers. No one knew about the SSL flaw until Apple quietly pushed out a patch last Friday without giving any details.

Within a day, researchers discovered the same flaw was in Mac OS X and pinpointed the code problem. Again, no word from Apple other than saying a patch would be coming soon.

The company's policy of not providing details on vulnerabilities does not instill confidence in businesses, which have to depend on the second-hand information of others.

"What people fault Apple for is the level of arrogance for not being up front with people about the situation," Jack Gold, analyst for J.Gold Associates, said.

The situation is particularly frustrating because of the many iPhones and iPads connecting to corporate networks, a phenomenon brought about by employees wanting to use their own mobile devices for work. The Mac is less of a problem because its use in business remains small compared to Windows PCs.

Most experts would like to see Apple copy Microsoft's open approach to security. The software maker releases details on patches in advance of their release each month and is quick to distribute emergency fixes when hackers exploit vulnerabilities that have not been identified.

However, Apple is not expected to change, so security experts recommend businesses consider the unique risks associated with the company and develop policies to reduce them.

"Enterprises should implement stop-gap policies to curtail the transmission of sensitive data until well-tested patches have been deployed," Randy Abrams, research director for NSS Labs, said. "Top-level executives and employees with access to highly sensitive data may (have to) be migrated to a safer platform."

With the SSL flaw, experts recommended that users of Apple products stay off of public Wi-Fi networks to avoid having data intercepted.

In the meantime, other experts suggest that Apple may still have the erroneous mindset that its products are more secure than Microsoft's, an attitude built from a time when hackers ignored the Mac in favor of market-dominating Windows PCs.

[New iOS flaw increases risk of spying on enterprises]

"Apple's recent gaffe with the now-infamous 'goto fail' is a clear reminder that, contrary to popular belief, Apple's operating systems are no more secure than alternative offerings," Chris Grayson, senior security analyst for consulting firm Bishop Fox, said.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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