Hacker attack exposes QuickTime vulnerability

A hacker has released attack code that exploits an unpatched vulnerability in Apple Inc.’s QuickTime, just a week after the company updated the media player to plug nine other serious vulnerabilities, a security researcher said Wednesday.

The exploit, which was published on the milw0rm.com site Tuesday, takes advantage of a flaw in the “” parameter in QuickTime, which is not prepared to handle excessively-long strings, said Aaron Adams, a researcher with Symantec Corp.’s DeepSight threat notification network.

“Symantec is currently investigating this flaw further to determine the underlying technical details,” said Adams in a research note Wednesday.

In its present form, the exploit triggers a QuickTime crash, but it may be more serious. “The exploit suggests that code execution may be possible,” Adams added, “[and] if this flaw were to allow arbitrary code to run, it may pose a significant risk, because attackers may be able to exploit the issue by embedding a malicious file into a site.”

The anonymous hacker who posted the attack code was just as uncertain as Symantec of the exploit’s power. “Code execution may be possible,” the milw0rm.com entry read.

Adams had little advice for users beyond urging them to be wary while browsing and to consider disabling the QuickTime plug-in, which is commonly found on Windows machines and installed by default on all Macs.

QuickTime has been the target of numerous attacks in the past. Apple has updated the player five times since the beginning of this year, and fixed more than 30 flaws in the process.

Last week, Apple updated QuickTime to 7.5.5 to patch nine other vulnerabilities, eight of which were tagged with the “arbitrary code execution” phrase that Apple uses to describe the most serious threats.

On September 9 Apple patched 20 security vulnerabilities in its QuickTime media player, iTunes music store client, iPod touch device and Bonjour network software. More than half of the bugs could let hackers hijack computers or the iPod.

In four separate security updates, Apple fixed nine flaws in QuickTime, seven in the iPod touch’s software, and two each in iTunes and Bonjour for Windows.

Secunia APS rated the QuickTime and iPod touch bugs as “highly critical,” its second-highest threat ranking. The Copenhagen-based vulnerability tracker pegged the Bonjour and iTunes flaws as “less critical,” the second-lowest ranking.

The update to QuickTime 7.5.5 was Apple’s fifth this year for the problem-plagued media player. Apple has plugged a total of 30 holes in the program in 2008, most recently in early June.

Five of the nine vulnerabilities affect both the Mac and Windows versions, while four affect only QuickTime for Windows XP and Vista. Apple described eight of the bugs as allowing “arbitrary code execution,” a phrase it uses to describe its most serious threats. Unlike vendors such as Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp., Apple doesn’t rank the bugs it fixes with a scoring or labeling system.

The patches address vulnerabilities in how QuickTime parses PICT images, QTVR (QuickTime Virtual Reality) files, QuickTime movies, H.264-encoded movies and Indeo-encoded video, according to Apple’s accompanying advisory. Similar such flaws were also patched in June, when Apple quashed different bugs in PICT parsing and Indeo video handling.

A majority of the vulnerabilities were reported to Apple via bug bounty programs run by 3com Inc.’s TippingPoint and VeriSign Inc.’s iDefense research arms.

Of the flaws fixed in the iPod touch, Bonjour for Windows and iTunes, the most serious were patches for the iPod’s open-source FreeType font engine and its Safari Web browser.

The four vulnerabilities in those two programs could be used by attackers to introduce rogue code and possibly compromise the device, according to Apple. The iPod touch, which was revamped just yesterday, is an iPhone lookalike that can connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi.

Both the iPod touch and Bonjour for Windows were also patched to stymie potential DNS (Domain Name System) cache-poisoning attacks. The DNS bug, disclosed by researcher Dan Kaminsky in early July, can be used by attackers to replace legitimate addresses in the Internet’s traffic-routing system with bogus destinations. The tactic is most often used by identity thieves who try to trick users into divulging confidential information. The DNS cache-poisoning vulnerability was first exploited in late July.

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+