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Vendors Quick To Hit Back At Security Researchers

Since 2008, security researcher Charlier Miller has scrutinized Apple products and found numerous vulnerabilities--attention that the company has endured with equanimity, if not good grace. In early November, however, the tenuous relationship broke down.

Miller discovered a weakness in the iOS operating system that could allow a seemingly benign app to run malicious, unsigned code. The researcher decided to exploit the issue as well, building an application that passed Apple's checks to land in the App Store. Miller then made a video showing that he could take control of the phone without the user's knowledge.

"This is code that was not reviewed and could have done anything. It gets around the processes built into the App Store," he said in the video demonstration.

Apple's validation of applications headed to the App Store is a key component of the security of the iOS. The incident embarrassed the company, and Apple quickly took it out on Miller, banning him from the developer program--and access to the App Store and developer resources--for at least a year. Apple terminated the relationship because Miller broke his promise not to "commit any act intended to interfere with the Apple Software or related services," the company stated in a letter to the researcher.

"First they give researcher's access to developer programs ... then they kick them out--for doing research. Me angry," Miller posted on Twitter Nov. 7. Miller, a principal consultant with security and compliance firm Accuvant, is no longer allowed to discuss the incident with press.

The debate over the best way to reveal software security flaws is more than two decades old. While the relationship between researchers and the software vendors whose product they investigate has always been uneasy, the tide appears to be taking a turn against researchers in 2011. Like Apple, companies once again are using tough tactics to take on researchers who point out vulnerabilities in their flaws.

"It seems the Grand Bargain is being breached," says Bruce Schneier, a noted security expert and chief security technology officer at British Telecom. "The retaliatory action by Apple is a good example."

Read the rest of this article on Dark Reading.

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