Book Review: "OS X Exploits and Defense
Volume Number: 24 (2008)
Issue Number: 09
Column Tag: Book Review
Book Review: "OS X Exploits and Defense
"Own it...Just Like Windows or Linux!"
by Edward Marczak
"OS X Exploits and Defense" claims that you'll "see real exploitation techniques for both OS X Tiger and Leopard." The eight chapters volley between personal reflections, basic explanations and diving into code. Unfortunately, the 321-page book spends a fair amount of this time on Mac OS 9.
Writing a book is a difficult undertaking. It has also been a particularly difficult time for authors writing books about OS X: to release a book in a reasonable time frame, much needed to written against beta versions of Leopard. Even after Mac OS X v10.5 was officially released, authors would be working with a less-than-complete operating system, and frequent updates would alter the system from beneath you. Collaboration can also be difficult. (For an example of how difficult, see Adam Engst's excellent presentation from Macworld 2008, "Collaborative Editing Tools & Techniques" at http://www.macworldencore.com/online/presentation.asp?id=257&sessionTypeIdVideo=1&trackIdVideo=4&movieVideo=US914.mp4&yearDate=2008). Increasing the number of contributors increases the difficulty of keeping communications open and in sync. This is a possible reason "OS X Exploits and Defense" feels so hodge-podge: having six authors hurts its chances of having a common voice and having a single thread that runs throughout the book. This also leads to a problem when the text refers to "I," as there's no indication as to which author wrote any given part of the material.
Not to say that there is nothing good about this book. There certainly are gems of code, and an explanation of how malware works and can gain access to an OS X system. Strangely, to frame this, a good portion of the book is spent talking about OS 9. I continually made sure I was reading a book that was published in 2008 and claimed to target Leopard.
Chapter 1 is entitled, "Macintosh OS X Boot Process and Forensic Software." The section on the boot process is covered quickly and slightly incorrectly, which is followed by a short overview of the utilities available in the BlackBag Forensic Suite. Then, without much explanation, Carbon Copy Cloner and MacDrive are covered. Chapter 2, "Past and Current Threats" covers current threats if you're running a version of OS X before Leopard.
Chapter 3 covers definitions and history. Here is where we get a lesson in malware and viruses that existed for OS 9. If you remember HyperCard with nostalgia, this chapter is a nice walk down memory lane, but otherwise overkill for the point being made. Chapter 4, "Malware and the Mac" is a good introduction to the current state of affairs with regard to known malware that can potentially affect Mac OS X (Leopard) and what Apple and third parties have done for the operating system to mitigate these problems. Chapter 5 brings us to "Mac OS X for Pen Testers." The bulk of this chapter is a straight list of tools used for security testing with descriptions of each. This is little more than the sectools list (http://sectools.org/) sanitized for Mac OS X compatibility. The remainder of the chapter presents basic material, such as a short introduction to the command shell (along with some information that could lead people to mistakenly erase their hard drive).
Chapter 6 covers wardriving and chapter 8 is a nice summary of encryption technologies available to the user of Mac OS X.
"OS X Exploits and Defense" had one shining chapter for me. In chapter 7, "Security and OS X," there is a good balance between explanation and diving into the deep end. This chapter is probably the most solid reminder that Mac OS X is not problem-free or exempt from malware, security issues or people trying to take advantage of these entry points.
The best I can say is that this book doesn't know who its audience is. If you can keep up with the code samples, you probably don't need instructions on how to compile open source software. If you need help compiling open source software using MacPorts or Fink, there's not enough guidance to keep up with the deeper material. The shame of it is, is that editors should have caught all of these issues with the writing and compilation of the book.
"OS X Exploits and Defense"
Ed Marczak is the Executive Editor for MacTech Magazine, and has been lucky enough to have ridden the computing and technology wave from early on. From teletype computing to MVS to Netware to modern OS X, his interest was piqued. He has also been fortunate enough to come into contact with some of the best minds in the business. Ed spends his non-compute time with his wife and two daughters.