August 11, 2006 10:00 AM PDT
Week in review: The seedier side of search
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Apple also introduced the Mac Pro, the company's first Intel-based professional desktop. The Mac Pro offers a similar casing to the Power Mac G5 that preceded it, but it replaces the older PowerPC processors with two dual-core Intel Xeon chips, as well as space for two optical disc drives and up to four hard drives.
Leopard's Time Machine will let Apple users search for the last time they saved a document, picture or any other file on their Mac. Only around a quarter of all Mac users back up their files, and just 4 percent do so automatically, Apple said. Time Machine will make it easy for Mac users to set up automatic backups and restore the file they desperately need, the company said.
So which will come first, Microsoft's Vista or Apple's Leopard? That is the question that was on the minds of many after Apple announced that the new version of the Mac OS X operating system will arrive next spring. Microsoft has said it plans to release Windows Vista in January. However, it has hedged somewhat, and many analysts believe the update won't arrive until later in the year.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs first talked about Leopard at last year's developer conference, saying it would arrive in late 2006 or early 2007. Vista, meanwhile, has suffered through many delays, most recently missing its target of being ready for PCs on sale in this year's holiday shopping season.
Fixing a hole
In a rare alert, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security urged Windows users to plug a potential worm hole in the Microsoft operating system. The agency, which also runs the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), sent out a news release on Wednesday recommending that people apply Microsoft's MS06-040 patch as quickly as possible. The software maker released the "critical" fix Tuesday as part of its monthly patch cycle.
"Users are encouraged to avoid delay in applying this security patch," the Department of Homeland Security said in the statement. The patch fixes a serious flaw that, if exploited, could enable an attacker to remotely take complete control of an affected system, the agency said.
Microsoft issued a dozen security bulletins, nine of which were tagged "critical," the company's highest severity rating. However, the flaw addressed in MS06-040 is the only one among the updates that could let an anonymous attacker remotely commandeer a Windows PC without any user interaction.
Microsoft is also feeling heat over a new feature in Windows that security software makers say is locking out the good guys, but letting in a lot of bad guys. Microsoft designed PatchGuard to safeguard core parts of Windows, including Vista, against malicious code attacks. But some security companies say that the feature makes it harder for them to protect Windows PCs, as it locks them out of the kernel, the core of the operating system.
Microsoft defends the technology, which applies only to 64-bit versions of Windows. Cybercrooks have found ways to exploit the kernel for malicious purposes, making the protection offered by PatchGuard key to securing the operating system, said Stephen Toulouse, a program manager in Microsoft's Security Technology Group.
In a third and final report on Windows Vista, Symantec examined the security of the operating system core and found some vulnerabilities. Vista includes several barriers designed to prevent malicious code from gaining access to the operating system kernel. These enhancements are "quite substantial" and result in a "dramatic reduction" of the overall attack surface of the operating system, Symantec said in a report.
"However, we have identified certain weaknesses in the kernel enhancements that may be leveraged by malicious code to undermine these improvements," wrote Matthew Conover, principal security researcher at Symantec.
Microsoft dismissed Symantec's report as old news, because the research is based on a Vista build released several months ago.
Also of note
Microsoft is putting a halt to a version of its Virtual PC software for Intel-based Macs...A federal appeals court ruled in favor of IBM in an age-discrimination suit concerning a change in pension plans that the plaintiffs said favored younger workers...Microsoft offered the first glimpse of an external HD DVD drive built for the Xbox 360 game console.
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