Hijacking an Apple Macbook in 60 seconds

“If you want to grab the attention of a roomful of hackers, one sure fire way to do it is to show them a new method for remotely circumventing the security of an Apple Macbook computer to seize total control over the machine. That’s exactly what hackers Jon “Johnny Cache” Ellch and David Maynor plan to show today in their Black Hat presentation on hacking the low-level computer code that powers many internal and external wireless cards on the market today,” Brian Krebs reports for The Washington Post.

Krebs reports, “The video shows Ellch and Maynor targeting a specific security flaw in the Macbook’s wireless ‘device driver,’ the software that allows the internal wireless card to communicate with the underlying OS X operating system. While those device driver flaws are particular to the Macbook — and presently not publicly disclosed — Maynor said the two have found at least two similar flaws in device drivers for wireless cards either designed for or embedded in machines running the Windows OS. Still, the presenters said they ultimately decided to run the demo against a Mac due to what Maynor called the ‘Mac user base aura of smugness on security.'”

“‘We’re not picking specifically on Macs here, but if you watch those ‘Get a Mac’ commercials enough, it eventually makes you want to stab one of those users in the eye with a lit cigarette or something,’ Maynor said. ‘The main problem here is that device drivers are a funny mix of stuff put together by hardware and software developers, and these guys are often under the gun to produce the code that will power products that the manufacturer is often in a hurry to get to market,'” Krebs reports.

Krebs reports, “Maynor said he and his colleague opted in favor of a videotaped demonstration versus a live one because of the possibility that someone in the audience could intercept the traffic sent to a potentially live target and deconstruct the attack — possibly to use the exploit in the wild against other Macbook users.

“Apple — like many computer manufacturers — outsources the development of its wireless device drivers to third parties. In Apple’s case, the developer in question is Atheros, a company that devises drivers for a number of different wireless cards, each designed with drivers specific to the operating systems on which they will be used,” Krebs reports. “Maynor and Ellch also found two different device driver flaws for wireless products aimed at Windows systems. This is notable because it points out a security loophole in the way that Microsoft has traditionally processed device drivers.”

Krebs reports, “Maynor said he and Ellch have been in contact with Apple, Microsoft and other companies responsible for vetting the device drivers that power the embedded or third-party wireless card devices meant for those systems, and that both companies are working with wireless card vendors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to remedy the problems. Assuming the wireless device driver makers affected by these flaws fix the problems, it may be an uphill battle for those vendors to find an easy way for users to upgrade that software.”

Krebs reports, “I should note here that while the bad guys may or may not have known about these security weaknesses for some time, there is not a single shred of evidence that these flaws have been exploited ‘in the wild’ (as security companies like to say). That said, it might not be terrible idea to take advantage of the button your laptop that allows you to turn off the machine’s constant search for wireless networks when you’re not actively trying to go online.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Those “Get a Mac” commercials are really getting under some people’s skin. Good.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Symantec researcher: At this time, there are no file-infecting viruses that can infect Mac OS X – July 13, 2006
Sophos: Apple Mac OS X’s security record unscathed; Windows Vista malware just a matter of time – July 07, 2006
Sophos Security: Dump Windows, Get a Mac – July 05, 2006
Apple: ‘Get a Mac. Say ‘Buh-Bye’ to viruses’ – June 01, 2006
Apple Macs and viruses: Fact vs. FUD – May 26, 2006


  1. You know, it shouldn’t be long before one of these guys that likes to publish malicious operating system exploits finds themselves in big legal trouble.

    They want to ‘stab in the eye’? C’mon. We’re hovering near encitement to violence with statements like that. Combine that with the public demonstration of a malicious hack? Gettin’ dicey, no?

  2. What sounds like bad news here (if true) is actually GREAT news!

    Please, let guys like this help Apple fix such problems BEFORE they get loose in the wild, not AFTER!

    The truth is that flaws exist in ALL systems, Mac, Windows, and beyond–and always will. The difference lies in how the company responsible for those flaws addresses them.

    If these are REAL, lets hope Apple (and even MonkeySoft) fixes them quickly. Regrettably, we ALL suffer when hackers do their thing.

  3. Yikes!

    no normal user is going to make any distinction between a flaw that originates in OS X vs. a third-party driver. If somebody hijacks a MacBook, it’s going to reflect very poorly on Apple.

    It’s really good that folks like this are out there, though. If the story is to be believed, then they will disclose their findings to both Apple and MS in the hopes of plugging this security hole in the future.

  4. Nothing as complex as Mac OS X– or Windows XP is going to be without flaws. However, when comparing security vulnerabilities between the two the difference is huge. I’d liken it to the difference between a a girl who has slept only with one BF and a toothless $10 crack whore. Guess which is which.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.