Apple Releases Security Patches for all Devices Fixing Dozens of New Vulnerabilities

Apple on Wednesday rolled out software fixes for iOS, iPadOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS to address a number of security flaws affecting its platforms.

This includes at least 37 flaws spanning different components in iOS and macOS that range from privilege escalation to arbitrary code execution and from information disclosure to denial-of-service (DoS).

Chief among them is CVE-2022-2294, a memory corruption flaw in the WebRTC component that Google disclosed earlier this month as having been exploited in real-world attacks aimed at users of the Chrome browser. There is, however, no evidence of in-the-wild zero-day exploitation of the flaw targeting iOS, macOS, and Safari.

Besides CVE-2022-2294, the updates also address several arbitrary code execution flaws impacting Apple Neural Engine (CVE-2022-32810, CVE-2022-32829, and CVE-2022-32840), Audio (CVE-2022-32820), GPU Drivers (CVE-2022-32821), ImageIO (CVE-2022-32802), IOMobileFrameBuffer (CVE-2022-26768), Kernel (CVE-2022-32813 and CVE-2022-32815), and WebKit (CVE-2022-32792).

Also patched is a Pointer Authentication bypass affecting the Kernel (CVE-2022-32844), a DoS bug in the ImageIO component (CVE-2022-32785), and two privilege escalation flaws in AppleMobileFileIntegrity and File System Events (CVE-2022-32819 and CVE-2022-32826).

What’s more, the latest version of macOS resolves five security vulnerabilities in the SMB module that could be potentially exploited by a malicious app to gain elevated privileges, leak sensitive information, and execute arbitrary code with kernel privileges.

Users of Apple devices are recommended to update to iOS 15.6, iPadOS 15.6, macOS Monterey 12.5 (Big Sur 11.6.8 or 2022-005 Catalina for older generation Macs), tvOS 15.6, and watchOS 8.7 to obtain the latest security protections.

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Uncovering a macOS App Sandbox escape vulnerability: A deep dive into CVE-2022-26706

Microsoft uncovered a vulnerability in macOS that could allow specially crafted codes to escape the App Sandbox and run unrestricted on the system. We shared these findings with Apple through Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure (CVD) via Microsoft Security Vulnerability Research (MSVR) in October 2021. A fix for this vulnerability, now identified as CVE-2022-26706, was included in the security updates released by Apple on May 16, 2022. Microsoft shares the vulnerability disclosure credit with another researcher, Arsenii Kostromin (0x3c3e), who discovered a similar technique independently.

We encourage macOS users to install these security updates as soon as possible. We also want to thank the Apple product security team for their responsiveness in fixing this issue.

The App Sandbox is Apple’s access control technology that application developers must adopt to distribute their apps through the Mac App Store. Essentially, an app’s processes are enforced with customizable rules, such as the ability to read or write specific files. The App Sandbox also restricts the processes’ access to system resources and user data to minimize the impact or damage if the app becomes compromised. However, we found that specially crafted codes could bypass these rules. An attacker could take advantage of this sandbox escape vulnerability to gain elevated privileges on the affected device or execute malicious commands like installing additional payloads.

We found the vulnerability while researching potential ways to run and detect malicious macros in Microsoft Office on macOS. For backward compatibility, Microsoft Word can read or write files with an “~$” prefix. Our findings revealed that it was possible to escape the sandbox by leveraging macOS’s Launch Services to run an open –stdin command on a specially crafted Python file with the said prefix.

Our research shows that even the built-in, baseline security features in macOS could still be bypassed, potentially compromising system and user data. Therefore, collaboration between vulnerability researchers, software vendors, and the larger security community remains crucial to helping secure the overall user experience. This includes responsibly disclosing vulnerabilities to vendors.

In addition, insights from this case study not only enhance our protection technologies, such as Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, but they also help strengthen the security strategies of software vendors and the computing landscape at large. This blog post thus provides details of our research and overviews of similar sandbox escape vulnerabilities reported by other security researchers that helped enrich our analysis.

How macOS App Sandbox works

In a nutshell, macOS apps can specify sandbox rules for the operating system to enforce on themselves. The App Sandbox restricts system calls to an allowed subset, and the said system calls can be allowed or disallowed based on files, objects, and arguments. Simply put, the sandbox rules are a defense-in-depth mechanism that dictates the kind of operations an application can or can’t do, regardless of the type of user running it. Examples of such operations include:

  • the kind of files an application can or can’t read or write;
  • whether the application can access specific resources such as the camera or the microphone, and;
  • whether the application is allowed to perform inbound or outbound network connections.
Diagram comparing how user data and system resources access an app without and with App Sandbox.Without App Sandbox, all user data and system resources will have unrestricted access to the app.With App Sandbox, only the data and resources confined within the said sandbox will have unrestricted access to the app. All other user data and resources won't have access.
Figure 1. Illustration of a sandboxed app, from the App Sandbox documentation (photo credit: Apple)

Therefore, the App Sandbox is a useful tool for all macOS developers in providing baseline security for their applications, especially for those that have large attack surfaces and run user-provided code. One example of these applications is Microsoft Office.

Sandboxing Microsoft Office in macOS

Attackers have targeted Microsoft Office in their attempts to gain a foothold on devices and networks. One of their techniques is abusing Office macros, which they use in social engineering attacks to trick users into downloading malware and other payloads.

On Windows systems, Microsoft Defender Application Guard for Office helps secure Microsoft Office against such macro abuse by isolating the host environment using Hyper-V. With this feature enabled, an attacker must first be equipped with a Hyper-V guest-to-host vulnerability to affect the host system—a very high bar compared to simply running a macro. Without a similar isolation technology and default setting on macOS, Office must rely on the operating system’s existing mitigation strategies. Currently, the most promising technology is the macOS App Sandbox.

Viewing the Microsoft sandbox rules is quite straightforward with the codesign utility. Figure 2 below shows the truncated sandbox rules for Microsoft Word:

Partial screenshot of a command line interface showing different keys and values related to the App Sandbox rules for Microsoft Word in macOS.
Figure 2. Viewing the Microsoft Word sandbox rules with the codesign utility

One of the rules dictates the kind of files the application is allowed to read or write. As seen in the screenshot of the syntax below, Word is allowed to read or write files with filenames that start with the “~$” prefix. The reason for this rule is rooted in the way Office works internally and remains intact for backward compatibility.

Partial screenshot of a command line interface showing the read/write App Sandbox rule for Microsoft Word in macOS.
Figure 3. File read and write sandbox rule for Microsoft Word

Despite the security restrictions imposed by the App Sandbox’s rules on applications, it’s possible for attackers to bypass the said rules and let malicious codes “escape” the sandbox and execute arbitrary commands on an affected device. These codes could be hidden in a specially crafted Word macro, which, as mentioned earlier, is one of the attackers’ preferred entry points.

Previously reported Office-specific sandbox escape vulnerability

For example, in 2018, MDSec reported a vulnerability in Microsoft Office on macOS that could allow an attacker to bypass the App Sandbox. As explained in their blog post, MDSec’s proof-of-concept (POC) exploit took advantage of the fact that Word could drop files with arbitrary contents to arbitrary directories (even after passing traditional permission checks), as long as these files’ filenames began with a “~$” prefix. This bypass was relatively straightforward: have a specially crafted macro drop a .plist file in the user’s LaunchAgents directory.

The LaunchAgents directory is a well-known persistence mechanism in macOS. PLIST files that adhere to a specific structure describe (that is, contain the metadata of) macOS launch agents initiated by the launchd process when a user signs in. Since these launch agents will be the children of launchd, they won’t inherit the sandbox rules enforced onto Word, and therefore will be out of the Office sandbox.

Shortly after the above vulnerability was reported, Microsoft deployed a fix that denied file writes to the LaunchAgents directory and other folders with similar implications. The said disclosure also prompted us to look into different possible sandbox escapes in Microsoft Word and other applications.

Exploring Launch Services as means of escaping the sandbox

In 2020, several blog posts described a generic sandbox escape vulnerability in macOS’s /usr/bin/open utility, a command commonly used to launch files, folders, and applications just as if a user double-clicked them. While open is a handy command, it doesn’t create child processes on its own. Instead, it performs an inter-process communication (IPC) with the macOS Launch Services, whose logic is implemented in the context of the launchd process. Launch Services then performs the heavy lifting by resolving the handler and launching the right app. Since launchd creates the process, it’s not restricted by the caller’s sandbox, similar to how MDSec’s POC exploit worked in 2018.

However, using open for sandbox escape purposes isn’t trivial because the destination app must be registered within Launch Services. This means that, for example, one couldn’t run files like osascript outside the sandbox using open. Our internal offensive security team therefore decided to reassess the open utility for sandbox escape purposes and use it in a larger end-to-end attack simulation.

Our obvious first attempt in creating a POC exploit was to create a macro that launches a shell script with the Terminal app. Surprisingly, the POC didn’t work because files dropped from within the sandboxed Word app were automatically given the extended attribute (the same one used by Safari to keep track of internet-downloaded files, as well as by Gatekeeper to block malicious files from executing), and Terminal simply refused to run files with that attribute. We also tried using Python scripts, but the Python app had similar issues running files having the said attribute.

Our second attempt was to use application extensibility features. For example, Terminal would run the default macOS shell (zsh), which would then run arbitrary commands from files like ~/.zshenv before running its own command line. This meant that dropping a .zshenv file in the user’s home directory and launching the Terminal app would cause the sandbox escape. However, due to Word’s sandbox rules, dropping a .zshenv file wasn’t straightforward, as the rules only allowed an application to write to files that begin with the “~$” prefix.

However, there is an interesting way of writing such a file indirectly. macOS was shipped with an application called Archive Utility responsible of extracting archive files (such as ZIP files). Such archives were extracted without any user interaction, and the files inside an archive were extracted in the same directory as the archive itself. Therefore, our second POC worked as follows:

  1. Prepare the payload by creating a .zshenv file with arbitrary commands and placing it in a ZIPfile. Encode the ZIPfile contents in a Word macro and drop those contents into a file “~$” in the user’s home directory.
  2. Launch Archive Utility with the open command on the “~$” file. Archive Utility ran outside the sandbox (since it’s the child process of /usr/bin/open) and was therefore permitted to create files with arbitrary names. By default, Archive Utility extracted the files next to the archive itself—in our case, the user’s home directory. Therefore, this step successfully created a .zshenv file with arbitrary contents in the user’s home directory.
  3. Launch the Terminal app with the open command. Since Terminal hosted zsh and zsh ran commands from the .zshenv file, the said file could escape the Word sandbox successfully.
Screenshot of a command line interface showing proof-of-concept exploit code.
Figure 4. Preparing a Word macro with our sandbox escape for an internal Red Team operation

Perception Point’s CVE-2021-30864

In October 2021, Perception Point published a blog post that discussed a similar finding (and more elegant, in our opinion). In the said post, Perception Point released details about their sandbox escape (now identified as CVE-2021-30864), which used the following facts:

  1. Every sandboxed process had its own container directory that’s used as a “scratch space.” The sandboxed process could write arbitrary files, including arbitrary filenames, to that directory unrestricted.
  2. The open command had an interesting –env option that could set or override arbitrary environment variables for the launched app.

Therefore, Perception Point’s POC exploit was cleverly simple:

  1. Drop a .zshenv file in the container directory. This was allowed because sandbox rules weren’t enforced on that directory.
  2. Launch Terminal with the open command but use the –env option to override the HOME environment variable to point to the container directory. This made zsh consider the user’s home directory to be the container directory, and run commands from the planted .zshenv file.

Apple has since patched the vulnerability Perception Point reported in the latest version of macOS, Monterey. While we could still create the “~$” file in the user’s home directory, using open to launch the Archive Utility on the ZIP file now resulted in it being extracted to the Downloads folder. While this is an interesting behavior, we could no longer use it for sandbox escape purposes.

Final exploit attempt: Revisiting the ‘open’ command

After discovering that Apple has fixed both variants that abuse .zshenv, , we decided to examine all the command line options of the open command. Soon after, we came across the following:

Screenshot of a command line interface with the following text:--stdin PATH
Launches the application with stdin connected to PATH.
Figure 5. The –stdin option in the open utility as presented by its manual entry

As mentioned earlier, we couldn’t run Python with a dropped .py file since Python refuses to run files with the “” extended attribute. We also considered abusing the PYTHONSTARTUP environment variable, but Apple’s fix to CVE-2021-30864 apparently prevented that option, too. However, stdin bypassed the “” extended attribute restriction, as there was no way for Python to know that the contents from its standard input originated from a quarantined file.

Our POC exploit thus became simply as follows:

  1. Drop a “~$” file with arbitrary Python commands.
  2. Run open –stdin=’~$’ -a Python, which runs the Python app with our dropped file serving as its standard input. Python happily runs our code, and since it’s a child process of launchd, it isn’t bound to Word’s sandbox rules.
Screenshot of a proof-of-concept exploit code.
Figure 6. Sample minimal POC exploit code

We also came up with a version that’s short enough to be a Twitter post:

Screenshot of a proof-of-concept exploit code.
Figure 7. “Tweetable” POC exploit

Detecting App Sandbox escapes with Microsoft Defender for Endpoint

Since our initial discovery of leveraging Launch Services in macOS for generic sandbox escapes, we have been using our POC exploits in Red Team operations to emulate end-to-end attacks against Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, improve its capabilities, and challenge our detections. Shortly after our Red Team used our first POC exploit, our Blue Team members used it to train artificial intelligence (AI) models to detect our exploit not only in Microsoft Office but also on any app used for a similar Launch Services-based sandbox escape.

After we learned of Perception Point’s technique and created our own new exploit technique (the Python POC), our Red Team saw another opportunity to fully test our own detection durability. Indeed, the same set of detection rules that handled our first sandbox escape vulnerability still turned out to be durable—even before the vulnerability related to our second POC exploit was patched.

Partial screenshot of Microsoft Defender for Endpoint detecting an Office sandbox escape vulnerability.The left panel shows the Alert Story with timestamps. The right panel shows the Alert details, including category, MITRE ATT&CK techniques, detection source, service source, detection status, and other information.
Figure 8. Microsoft Defender for Endpoint detecting Office sandbox escape

For Defender for Endpoint customers, such detection durability feeds into the product’s threat and vulnerability management capabilities, which allows them to quickly discover, prioritize, and remediate misconfigurations and vulnerabilities—including those affecting non-Windows devices—through a unified security console.

Learn how Microsoft Defender for Endpoint delivers a complete endpoint security solution across all platforms.

Jonathan Bar Or
Microsoft 365 Defender Research Team

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A Simple Formula for Getting Your IT Security Budget Approved

Although there is a greater awareness of cybersecurity threats than ever before, it is becoming increasingly difficult for IT departments to get their security budgets approved. Security budgets seem to shrink each year and IT pros are constantly being asked to do more with less. Even so, the situation may not be hopeless. There are some things that IT pros can do to improve the chances of getting their security budgets approved.

Presenting the Problem in a Compelling Way

If you want to get your proposed security budget approved, you will need to present security problems in a compelling way. While those who are in charge of the organization’s finances are likely aware of the need for good security, they have probably also seen enough examples of “a security solution in search of a problem” to make them skeptical of security spending requests. If you want to persuade those who control the money, then you will need to convince them of three things:

  1. You are trying to protect against a real issue that presents a credible threat to the organization’s wellbeing.
  2. Your proposed solution will be effective and that it isn’t just a “new toy for the IT department to play with”
  3. Your budget request is both realistic and justified.

Use Data to Your Advantage

One of the best ways to convince those who are in charge that there is a credible cyber threat against the organization is to provide them with quantifiable metrics. Don’t resort to gathering statistics from the Internet. Your organization’s financial staff is probably smart enough to know that most of those statistics are manufactured by security companies who are trying to sell a product or service. Instead, gather your own metrics from inside your organization by using tools that are freely available for download.

Specops for example, offers a free Password Auditor that can generate reports demonstrating the effectiveness of your organization’s password policy and existing password security vulnerabilities. This free tool can also help you to identify other vulnerabilities, such as accounts that are using passwords that are known to have been leaked or passwords that do not adhere to compliance standards or industry best practices.

Example of Specops Password Auditor results in an Active Directory environment

Of course, this is just one of the many free security tools that are available for download. In any case, it is important to use metrics from within your own organization to demonstrate the fact that the security problem that you are trying to solve is real.

Highlight What a Solution Would Do

Once you demonstrate the problem to those who are in charge of the organization’s finances, do not make the mistake of leaving them guessing as to how you are planning on solving the problem. Be prepared to clearly explain what tools you are planning on using, and how those tools will solve the problem that you have demonstrated.

It’s a good idea to use visuals to demonstrate the practicality of your proposed solution. Be sure to explain how the problem is solved in non-technical language and enhance your argument with examples that are specific to your organization.

Estimated Time of Implementation and Seeing Results

We have probably all heard horror stories of IT projects that have gone off the rails. Organizations sometimes spend millions of dollars and invest years of planning into IT projects that never ultimately materialize. That being the case, it is important to set everyone’s mind at ease by showing them exactly how long it will take to get your proposed solution up and running and then how much additional time will be needed in order to achieve the desired result.

When you are making these projections, be careful to be realistic and not to make promises based on an overly ambitious implementation schedule. You should also be prepared to explain how you arrived at your projection. Keep in mind upcoming projects, company-wide goals, and fiscal year ideals when factoring in timing.

Demonstrate the Estimated Savings

Although security is of course a concern for most organizations, those who are in charge of an organization’s finances typically want to see some sort of return on investment. As such, it is important to consider how your proposed solution might save the company money. A few ideas might include:

  • Saving the IT department time, thereby reducing the number of overtime hours worked
  • Avoiding a regulatory penalty that could cost the organization a lot of money
  • Bringing down insurance premiums because data is being better protected

Of course, these are just ideas. Every situation is different, and you will need to consider how your security project can produce a return on investment given your own unique circumstances. It is important to include a cost-saving element for clarity sake, even if it is citing the average cost of a data breach in your industry.

Show You’ve Done Your Homework with a Pricing Comparison

As you pitch your proposed solution, stakeholders are almost certain to ask whether there might be a less expensive product that would accomplish your objectives. As such, it’s important to spend some time researching the solutions offered by competing vendors. Here are a few things that you should be prepared to demonstrate:

  • The total cost for implementing each potential solution (this may include licensing, labor, support, and hardware costs)
  • Why you are proposing a particular solution even if it is not the least expensive
  • If your solution is the least expensive, then be prepared to explain what you might be giving up by using the cheapest vendor.
  • What each vendor offers relative to the others

A Few Quick Tips

As you make your budgetary pitch, keep in mind that those to whom you are presenting likely have a limited understanding of IT concepts. Avoid using unnecessary technical jargon and be prepared to clearly explain key concepts, but without sounding condescending in the process.

It’s also smart to anticipate any questions that may be asked of you and have answers to those questions ready to go. This is especially true if there is a particular question that makes you a little bit uncomfortable.

Present your information clearly, confidently, and in a concise manner (I.e., make it quick!) so you can make your case without wasting time.


How the James Webb Telescope’s cosmic pictures impacted the Internet

The James Webb Telescope reveals emerging stellar nurseries and individual stars in the Carina Nebula that were previously obscured. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. Full image here.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” — Carl Sagan

In the past few years, space technology and travel have been trending with increased  attention and endeavors (including private ones). In our 2021 Year in Review we showed how NASA and SpaceX flew higher, at least in terms of interest on the Internet.

This week, NASA in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), released the first images from the James Webb Telescope (JWST) which conducts infrared astronomy to “reveal the unseen universe”.

Webb’s First Deep Field is the first operational image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, depicting a galaxy cluster with a distance of 5.12 billion light-years from Earth. Revealed to the public on 11 July 2022. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. Full image here.

So, let’s dig into something we really like here at Cloudflare, checking how real life and human interest has an impact on the Internet. In terms of general Internet traffic in the US, Radar shows us that there was an increase both on July 11 and July 12, compared to the previous week (bear in mind that July 4, the previous Monday, was the Independence Day holiday in the US).

Next, we look at DNS request trends to get a sense of traffic to Internet properties (and using from this point on EST time in all the charts). Let’s start with the cornucopia of NASA, ESA and other websites (there are many, some dedicated just to the James Webb Telescope findings).

There are two clear spikes in the next chart. The first was around the time the first galaxy cluster infrared image was announced by Joe Biden, on Monday, July 11, 2022 (at 17:00), with traffic rising 13x higher than in the previous week. There was also a 5x spike at 01:00 EST that evening. The second spike was higher and longer and happened during Tuesday, July 12, 2022, when more images were revealed. Tuesday’s peak was at 10:00, with traffic being 19x higher than in the previous week — traffic was higher than 10x between 09:00 and 13:00.

The first image was presented by US president at around 17:00 on July 11. DNS traffic was 1.5x higher to White House-related websites than any time in the preceding month.

Conclusion: space, the final frontier

As we saw in 2021, space projects and announcements continue to have a clear impact on the Internet, in this case in our DNS request view of Internet traffic. So far, what the James Webb Telescope images are showing us is a glimpse of a never-before-seen picture of parts of the universe (there’s no lack of excitement in Cloudflare’s internal chat groups).

You can keep an eye on these and other trends using Cloudflare Radar and follow @CloudflareRadar on Twitter — recently we covered extensively Canada’s Internet outage.

We protect entire corporate networks, help customers build Internet-scale applications efficiently, accelerate any website or Internet applicationward off DDoS attacks, keep hackers at bay, and can help you on your journey to Zero Trust.

Visit from any device to get started with our free app that makes your Internet faster and safer.

To learn more about our mission to help build a better Internet, start here. If you’re looking for a new career direction, check out our open positions.

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5 Key Things We Learned from CISOs of Smaller Enterprises Survey

New survey reveals lack of staff, skills, and resources driving smaller teams to outsource security.

As business begins its return to normalcy (however “normal” may look), CISOs at small and medium-size enterprises (500 – 10,000 employees) were asked to share their cybersecurity challenges and priorities, and their responses were compared the results with those of a similar survey from 2021.

Here are the 5 key things we learned from 200 responses:

— Remote Work Has Accelerated the Use of EDR Technologies

In 2021, 52% of CISOs surveyed were relying on endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools. This year that number has leapt to 85%. In contrast, last year 45% were using network detection and response (NDR) tools, while this year just 6% employ NDR. Compared to 2021, double the number of CISOs and their organizations are seeing the value of extended detection and response (XDR) tools, which combine EDR with integrated network signals. This is likely due to the increase in remote work, which is more difficult to secure than when employees work within the company’s network environment.

— 90% of CISOs Use an MDR Solution

There is a massive skills gap in the cybersecurity industry, and CISOs are under increasing pressure to recruit internally. Especially in small security teams where additional headcount is not the answer, CISOs are turning to outsourced services to fill the void. In 2021, 47% of CISOs surveyed relied on a Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP), while 53% were using a managed detection and response (MDR) service. This year, just 21% are using an MSSP, and 90% are using MDR.

— Overlapping Threat Protection Tools are the #1 Pain Point for Small Teams

The majority (87%) of companies with small security teams struggle to manage and operate their threat protection products. Among these companies, 44% struggle with overlapping capabilities, while 42% struggle to visualize the full picture of an attack when it occurs. These challenges are intrinsically connected, as teams find it difficult to get a single, comprehensive view with multiple tools.

— Small Security Teams Are Ignoring More Alerts

Small security teams are giving less attention to their security alerts. Last year 14% of CISOs said they look only at critical alerts, while this year that number jumped to 21%. In addition, organizations are increasingly letting automation take the wheel. Last year, 16% said they ignore automatically remediated alerts, and this year that’s true for 34% of small security teams.

— 96% of CISOs Are Planning to Consolidate Security Platforms

Almost all CISOs surveyed have consolidation of security tools on their to-do lists, compared to 61% in 2021. Not only does consolidation reduce the number of alerts – making it easier to prioritize and view all threats – respondents believe it will stop them from missing threats (57%), reduce the need for specific expertise (56%), and make it easier to correlate findings and visualize the risk landscape (46%). XDR technologies have emerged as the preferred method of consolidation, with 63% of CISOs calling it their top choice.

Download 2022 CISO Survey of Small Cyber Security Teams to see all the results.

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Yoast SEO 19.3: Schema improvements, new word complexity assessment

Something has to be readable for machines and humans to understand it, right? Easy-to-read content has a greater chance of success as more people tend to understand it quickly. The same goes for machines — search engines rely on structured data to help them understand the meaning of your pages. In Yoast SEO 19.3, we’re bringing readability improvements to both humans and machines.

Schema structured data in Yoast SEO 19.3

You probably know the importance of structured data — search engines use it to grasp your content. They use those insights to determine if your content is valid for a rich result, visually highlighting it in the search results. But schema does other things as well.

A better way to handle images in the schema

In Yoast SEO 19.3, we’re improving how we handle images in our schema. If you want the proper pictures to show on your different output channels, you must be sure that search engines can find the right ones. We’ve changed the way we handled this.

At first, we relied on the OpenGraph image and Twitter image. The thing is, these often contain text to help them stand out on social media. On Google Discover, text on an image is not helpful and might hinder the performance of your post. Now, we output the textless featured image as the initial image for search engines to use. The main benefit is that services like Google Discover can use the right image — making your content shine! It increases the chance that your content will do well on Google Discover.

More robust handling of the webpage’s schema id

Yoast SEO comes with a thorough structured data implementation. From the start, we’ve been advocating using the id to tie all the different parts of a site together in one schema graph. In Yoast SEO 19.3, we’re improving how we handle the @id of the main schema WebPage node to be just the permalink for the current page. Doing this makes it easier for other plugins to build on our work.

Read our schema developer documentation to learn about our schema philosophy and best practices.

Yoast SEO Premium: New word complexity assessment to grade content

The readability analysis in Yoast SEO helps you to write content that is easy to read and quick to understand. We see excellent readability as a fundamental human right online. Sometimes, people accuse us of dumbing down content, but we like to turn that around — by making your content easier to read, you open it up for a lot more people.

For years, we used the Flesch Reading Easy score to give you a sense of how difficult a text would be to understand for users of different levels. This reading score works well, but it’s hard to make it more actionable. We’re introducing a new word complexity analysis that scans your content to see if you use too many complex words in your text.

Go Premium and get access to all our features!

Premium comes with lots of features and free access to our SEO courses!

Get Yoast SEO Premium »Only €99 EUR / year (ex VAT)

Word complexity is in beta and English only for now

One of the advantages of the complex word assessment is that it’s actionable. We can mark words that are complex according to our definition. The words we recognize as complex are, for the most part, complicated words that you might want to reconsider. By marking them in the text, you can easily change these to a more common alternative.

Of course, some words aren’t that difficult, but we still highlight them. Also, you might be in a situation where your keyphrase is considered a complex word. In rare cases, you might get a bit of duality in the feedback. That is one of the reasons we’re releasing the word complexity feature in Yoast SEO Premium beta and for English only.

The word complexity feature can highlight difficult words in your text

Flesch Reading Ease score moved to Insights tab

In Yoast SEO 19.3, you’ll notice that the Flesch Reading Ease score is no longer available in the readability section as it’s been replaced by the word complexity feedback. We haven’t removed it, but we’ve moved it to the Insights tab. Here, you’ll find the score and some other excellent insights into your content, like the word count, reading time, and the prominent words feature.

In the Yoast SEO Insights tab, you can find more information about your article

Enhancement to the crawl settings

The past two releases of Yoast SEO Premium saw the introduction and expansion of our new crawl settings. With these crawl settings, you can get better control over what search engines crawl and don’t crawl on your site. This is designed to help you decrease the baggage that WordPress comes with out of the box.

We’re not done with the crawl settings because we have many ideas to improve and expand these. In Yoast SEO Premium 18.9, we’re improving the handling of RSS feeds. We now add canonical HTTP headers from RSS feeds to their parent URLs (for instance, your homepage or specific categories or tags), so the feeds are less likely to appear in search results.

Update now to Yoast SEO 19.3

This is just a sampling of the changes and fixes to Yoast SEO 19.3. We have structured data updates, a new word complexity assessment in Yoast SEO Premium 18.9, improvements to the crawl settings, and more. Go download it now!

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Spectre and Meltdown Attacks Against OpenSSL

The OpenSSL Technical Committee (OTC) was recently made aware of several potential attacks against the OpenSSL libraries which might permit information leakage via the Spectre attack.1 Although there are currently no known exploits for the Spectre attacks identified, it is plausible that some of them might be exploitable.

Local side channel attacks, such as these, are outside the scope of our security policy, however the project generally does introduce mitigations when they are discovered. In this case, the OTC has decided that these attacks will not be mitigated by changes to the OpenSSL code base. The full reasoning behind this is given below.

The Spectre attack vector, while applicable everywhere, is most important for code running in enclaves because it bypasses the protections offered. Example enclaves include, but are not limited to:

The reasoning behind the OTC’s decision to not introduce mitigations for these attacks is multifold:

  • Such issues do not fall under the scope of our defined security policy. Even though we often apply mitigations for such issues we do not mandate that they are addressed.
  • Maintaining code with mitigations in place would be significantly more difficult. Most potentially vulnerable code is extremely non-obvious, even to experienced security programmers. It would thus be quite easy to introduce new attack vectors or fix existing ones unknowingly. The mitigations themselves obscure the code which increases the maintenance burden.
  • Automated verification and testing of the attacks is necessary but not sufficient. We do not have automated detection for this family of vulnerabilities and if we did, it is likely that variations would escape detection. This does not mean we won’t add automated checking for issues like this at some stage.
  • These problems are fundamentally a bug in the hardware. The software running on the hardware cannot be expected to mitigate all such attacks. Some of the in-CPU caches are completely opaque to software and cannot be easily flushed, making software mitigation quixotic. However, the OTC recognises that fixing hardware is difficult and in some cases impossible.
  • Some kernels and compilers can provide partial mitigation. Specifically, several common compilers have introduced code generation options addressing some of these classes of vulnerability:
    • GCC has the -mindirect-branch-mfunction-return and -mindirect-branch-register options
    • LLVM has the -mretpoline option
    • MSVC has the /Qspectre option

  1. Nicholas Mosier, Hanna Lachnitt, Hamed Nemati, and Caroline Trippel, “Axiomatic Hardware-Software Contracts for Security,” in Proceedings of the 49th ACM/IEEE International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA), 2022.

Posted by OpenSSL Technical Committee May 13th, 2022 12:00 am

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Microsoft Defender adds network protection for Android, iOS devices

Microsoft has introduced a new Microsoft Defender for Endpoint (MDE) feature in public preview to help organizations detect weaknesses affecting Android and iOS devices in their enterprise networks.

After enabling the new Mobile Network Protection feature on Android and iOS devices you want to monitor, the enterprise endpoint security platform will provide protection and notifications when it detects rogue Wi-Fi-related threats and rogue certificates (the primary attack vector for Wi-Fi networks).

Threats it can spot include rogue hardware such as Hak5 Wi-Fi Pineapple devices which both pen-testers and cybercriminals can use to capture data shared within the network.

MDE will also alert users to switch networks if it spots a suspicious or unsecured network and push notifications when it discovers open Wi-Fi networks.

While the feature is enabled by default on mobile devices, Microsoft also provides detailed info on configuring network protection on Android and iOS devices via the Microsoft Endpoint Manager Admin center.

“As the world continues to make sense of the digital transformation, networks are becoming increasingly complex and provide a unique avenue for nefarious activity if left unattended,” the company said this week.

“To combat this, Microsoft offers a mobile network protection feature in Defender for Endpoint that helps organizations identify, assess, and remediate endpoint weaknesses with the help of robust threat intelligence.”

Disable MDE Network Protection
Disabling MDE Network Protection (Microsoft)

Cross-platform endpoint security platform

This is part of a broader effort to expand Defender for Endpoint’s capabilities across all major platforms to allow security teams to defend network endpoints via a single, unified security solution.

In February, MDE on iOS was updated with zero-touch onboarding capability allowing admins to silently and automatically install Defender for Endpoint on enrolled devices.

One month later, Microsoft announced that threat and vulnerability management support for Android and iOS reached general availability in Microsoft Defender for Endpoint.

Android and iOS vulnerability management lets admins decrease mobile endpoints’ surface attack and, in the process, increase their organization’s resilience against incoming attacks.

“With this new cross-platform coverage, threat and vulnerability management capabilities now support all major device platforms across the organization – spanning workstations, servers, and mobile devices,” Microsoft said.

Earlier this month, Redmond also said that a new MDE feature allows admins to “contain” unmanaged Windows devices on their network if they were compromised or are suspected to be compromised to block malware and attackers from abusing them to move laterally through the network.

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Staying safe online with our updated Google Password Manager

Strong, unique passwords are key to helping keep your personal information secure online. That’s why Google Password Manager can help you create, remember and autofill passwords on your computer or phone: on the web in Chrome, and in your favorite Android and iOS apps.

Video showing how Google Password Manager is built into Chrome and Android, and how you can set it up as your passwords' provider on your iPhone.

Today we’ve started rolling out a number of updates that help make the experience easier to use, with even stronger protections built in.

A consistent look and feel, across web and apps

We’re always grateful for feedback, and many of you have shared that managing passwords between Chrome and Android has been confusing at times: “It’s the same info in both places, so why does it look so different?” With this release, we’re rolling out a simplified and unified management experience that’s the same in Chrome and Android settings. If you have multiple passwords for the same sites or apps, we’ll automatically group them. And for your convenience, you can create a shortcut on your Android home screen to access your passwords with a single tap.

GIF showing new Google Password Manager shortcut on an Android homescreen.

You can now add a shortcut to Google Password Manager to your Android homescreen.

More powerful password protections

Google Password Manager can create unique, strong passwords for you across platforms, and helps ensure your passwords aren’t compromised as you browse the web. We’re constantly working to expand these capabilities, which is why we’re giving you the ability to generate passwords for your iOS apps when you set Chrome as your autofill provider.

Image showing how Chrome can automatically generate strong passwords on iOS

You can now create strong passwords on your computer or mobile, on any operating system.

Chrome can automatically check your passwords when you enter them into a site, but you can have an added layer of confidence by checking them in bulk with Password Checkup. We’ll now flag not only compromised credentials, but also weak and re-used passwords on Android. If Google warns you about a password, you can now fix them without hassle with our automated password change feature on Android.

Image showing how the Password Checkup feature flags compromised passwords on Android

For your peace of mind, Password Checkup on Android can flag compromised, weak and reused passwords.

To help protect even more people, we’re expanding our compromised password warnings to all Chrome users on Android, Chrome OS, iOS, Windows, MacOS and Linux.

Simplified access and password management

Google built its password manager to stay out of your way — letting you save passwords when you log in, filling them when you need them and ensuring they aren’t compromised. However, you might want to add your passwords to the app directly, too. That’s why, due to popular demand, we’re adding this functionality to Google Password Manager on all platforms.

GIF showing how you can add your passwords directly on all platforms.

Adding your passwords directly is now possible on all platforms.

In 2020, we announced Touch-to-Fill to help you fill your passwords in a convenient and recognizable way. We’re now bringing Touch-to-Login to Chrome on Android to make logging in even quicker by allowing you to securely log in to sites directly from the overlay at the bottom of your screen.

GIF showing new touch-to-login feature

Touch-to-Login signs you in directly from a recognizable overlay.

Many of these features were developed at the Google Safety Engineering Center (GSEC), a hub of privacy and security experts based in Munich, so Guten Tag from the team! Of course, our efforts to create a safer web are a truly global effort – from our early work on 2-step verification, to our future investments in technologies like passkeys – and these updates that we are rolling out over the next months are an important part of that work.

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Google Workspace Now Warns Admins of Sensitive Changes

Google this week announced that new warnings added in the Google Workspace Alert Center will keep administrators notified of critical and sensitive configuration changes.

Previously known as G Suite, Google Workspace provides secure collaboration and productivity tools for enterprises of all sizes. Accessible from anywhere in Google Workspace, the Alert Center delivers real-time security alerts and insights, to help admins mitigate threats such as phishing and malware.

With the new alerts in place, admins will also receive notifications whenever select changes are made to their Google Workspace configurations.

Specifically, warnings will be displayed when the primary admin is changed, when the password for a super admin account has been reset, and when changes are made to SSO profiles – when a third-party SSO profile has been added, updated, or deleted for the organization.

“These additional intelligent alerts will closely monitor several sensitive actions, making it easier for admins to stay on top of high-risk changes to their environment and potentially malicious actions being taken by bad actors,” Google explains.

An email notification containing key details on the event will be delivered to admins and super admins for each alert. The security investigation tool will allow admins to further investigate the reported incident.

The alerts and their associated email notifications are enabled by default and cannot be turned off.

The new capability is rolling out to all Google Workspace customers, including legacy G Suite Basic and Business customers, and is expected to become visible for everyone in the next couple of weeks.

Earlier this year, Google boosted malware and phishing protections in Workspace with updated comment notifications that now also include the commenter’s email address, so that users can better assess the legitimacy of the message.

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