Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

February wasn’t a good month for Apple Computer, as lots of people wondered whether the company’s once-impregnable operating system was vulnerable. But cries of doom in the popular press are premature. In reality, two of the three security issues concerning Apple’s OS X operating system that arose last month triggered very low-level security alerts. In fact, they would probably not have garnered attention had they not come on top of each other – and had there not also been the discovery of a security hole in Apple’s Web browser, Safari – a hole that is a potentially serious problem.

The first security issue, called Inqtana, was a “proof of concept”: that is, it did not exist outside the world of programmers checking for potential problems in software. It was first reported by numerous people to the IT security firm Secunia, which classified it as a worm. (A worm is a self-replicating virus that enters a computer or network and can cause disruptions.)

Inqtana exploited a problem with the Bluetooth wireless communications protocol in order to send copies of itself to other computers. It was designed simply to illustrate this weakness, and didn’t do anything else. In fact, it was never reported outside of testing conditions, and was even coded with an “internal counter” that rendered it dead after February 24.

Still, it inspired swift action. Apple quickly released a system patch that proofed Mac OS X 10.4.5 against it. Ironically, some other proposed solutions were more problematic than the worm itself. For instance, the U.K.-based company Sophos Plc issued an Inqtana update to its anti-virus software, which recommended that users delete certain files and applications – many of which were critical (and uninfected). According to the company, the flawed version of its product was available for less than two hours before it was patched.

The other “non-issue” was called Leap by security companies, and originally dubbed Oompa-Loompa (later amended to Oomp-A). That exploit shares characteristics of both a worm and Trojan horse – a seemingly innocuous program or file that, after getting itself installed, can compromise a user’s online privacy.

Oomp-A masqueraded as a desirable image, running a program called a shell script, which directly interfaces with the operating system. It tried to copy and send itself through iChat, the Mac OS X’s instant-messaging application, to other computers on a local wireless network. Security companies deemed Oomp-A a low risk, with little chance of doing damage. When several Apple experts dissected it, they found Oomp-A to be not only fairly harmless, but also poorly written. As Apple expert Andrew Welch says, “You cannot simply ‘catch’ the virus [Oomp-A]…you cannot be infected unless you unarchive [decompress] the file, and then open it.”

10 comments. Share your thoughts »

Tagged: Computing

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »