OS X Mountain Lion: Still unsupported and vulnerable

OS X Mountain Lion: Still unsupported and vulnerable

Summary: One month after the release of OS X Mavericks and the disclosure of 48 vulnerabilities in Mountain Lion, Apple has not released any updates to fix these or any other problems in Mountain Lion.

TOPICS: Security, Apple, iOS

One month ago today, Apple killed off OS X 10.8, a.k.a. Mountain Lion.

It wasn't a big, or even small news story at the time. There was no mournful funeral procession, no clamor to find out whodunnit. In fact, based on the reaction I received when I first suggested that Apple had killed Mountain Lion, many refused to believe it was dead. To this day, I think I'm the only one to write about it.  Even Wikipedia, that ultimate repository of the truth, still lists OS X Mountain Lion as 'Supported'.

How did the killing of a prominent operating system go unnoticed? Death came to Mountain Lion in a passive way: On October 22, 2013 Apple released OS X 10.9, a.k.a. Mavericks. In the past, at least for the past few versions, whenever Apple released security updates for a version of OS X, and those vulnerabilities affected prior supported major versions of OS X, they would release the updates for all supported versions at the same time. There's a clear logic for this practice: Once the vulnerabilities are disclosed and the updates are released, users of any versions for which there are no updates are vulnerable to attack.

This is the situation in which users of Moutain Lion (and Lion and any other prior version) find themselves. On October 22, as they released Mavericks, Apple disclosed 48 vulnerabilities in Mountain Lion that were fixed in Mavericks. They did not release an update for Mavericks to patch these vulnerabilities, as they have done in the past for prior, supported versions.

Many readers and outside observers told me they were skeptical, and that of course Apple could still release the updates. Of course they could. The problem is that it's a month now and there's no reason to believe they will. Indeed, without saying anything specific about any specific versions, Apple told me that they have not changed their policies about updating operating systems. If this is true, and if their past practices are indicative of their policy, then they have stopped supporting Mountain Lion.

I'd like to wait to see the next set of NetMarketShare numbers on it, but clearly there are still a lot of people running Mountain Lion. I know of one person who upgraded to Mavericks and then downgraded back to Mountain Lion. You have to be pretty desparate to go this route, as reverting a system backwards from Mavericks is no picnic.

I know of no actual attacks on Macs using these vulnerabilities, but if I were writing malware I would see them as a big fat invitation to attack. All those users on Moutain Lion (and Lion) are vulnerable and there's nothing they can do but upgrade.

Why would Apple do this? I stand by my earlier theory: Much was made of Apple's decision to make Mavericks free. The significance I attach to it is that they are bringing their OS X and iOS upgrade and pricing policies in line: Now both are free and only one version is supported at a time. All users must upgrade to the next version in order to receive support, including security updates.

Complaints about bugs in Mavericks are common; my colleague David Gewirtz thinks Apple should call Mavericks beta. Of course they would never do this anyway, but doing so now would mean that there would be no shipping, supported version of OS X. Even so there would still be a hardcore of fanboys who will take whatever abuse Apple heaps on them and beg for more.

Topics: Security, Apple, iOS

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  • Planned obsolence

    It amazes me that Mac users still put up with the dreadful support by Apple. I would understand if they actually improved things, but often they outright remove features that were widely used or botch up new features. It's all about driving hardware sales plain and simple.

    Windows 8 runs perfectly fine on hardware from 5-6 years ago. A decent CPU and 2gb ram and you can keep on using the same programs you've already invested in.

    So no Apple is not giving out free software, it's bundled into the cost of ownership and you need new hardware to keep using it.
    • OS X Mavericks also runs just fine on hardware from

      5 years ago. And it's free. So, what, exactly, was your point?
      • 5 years perhaps

        What about 10 years ago? I can run Windows 7 or 8 on a single-core Athlon 3200+ with 1 GB of first-gen RAM and a stone-age Radeon 9800.
        • ..but why?

          Microsoft would have even tried to convince you, that machine should have been recycled with XP still on it.
          I have a few Windows machines, one even with with that exact 3200+ on an Asus A7N-8X motherboard, but wow I would sure hate to license a genuine Windows 7 copy on it.
          That old girl is suited for my Linux experiments.
          • Why not??

            Because if it runs fine, to do what most people need to do (check emails and surf the web) then go for it. Where as Macs you cannot, not because it may or may not run, because Apple will not allow it.
          • But why Windows 8

            To surf the web and check emails.
          • Because for most...you just never know...

            Surf, email, store and look at pics, but one day you may want a little more. Or you may just need it for a little more now and then. And what the Windows haters just cant seem to fathom is that millions love Windows 8 once they have it for a bit.

            I know I didn't know what I was going to think once I got my first Windows 8 rig. Sure the Windows haters were out in full force claiming the world was coming to and end finally because Microsoft had invented the worst operating system mankind has ever seen, but I had read as many or more posts that had said Windows 8 was not difficult to learn and was an over all great OS. Problems people said existed always seemed to end up having an explanation as to how to make it simple instead of a problem.

            But ya, I could see Windows 8 was different, and the Windows 8 nay sayers were actually talking as if it was end game for MS and Windows, that's how horrible it was.

            It cant help but make one wonder just how many real life problems Windows 8 would create for me. I needed a new laptop, I got a And Asus ROG with Windows 8.

            Windows 8 is simply a marvelous operating system and great to work with. If its as secure as people say it is, that's bonus because it sure seems stable and its definitely fast. I look back and have to laugh at all this "jarring screen switch" BS and wonder what people were talking about. I guess they find switching from one browser tab to another jarring too and find it difficult to efficiently web surf because of it. If Windows 8 provides for jarring screen changes there are probably a few common computer screen changes on all systems people must find "Jarring".

            What a crock.

            Windows 8 is perfectly fine and a fantastic choice for anyone's PC.
          • @cayble

            You must be the luckiest person to have a copy of W8 that works. For the rest of us, it is rubbish; completely useless for productivity.
          • The complaints I hear of Windows 8 are...

            …related to the new interface. Most of them around the Start Menu. As for the underlying OS I've not heard anyone have anything negative to say about it. In fact people tolerate the new interface because the rest of the OS is rock solid.
          • One left foot......

            .....belongs in your mouth. There are millions of Windows 8 users that have no issues.
          • I don't like the new Start Screen.

            I fully understand what they mean by jarring. I hit the "Start" Button and the desktop switches the entire screen from the desktop to a screen full of icons. I then click on the icon and it switches back to the desktop (this, or course, assume I selected a desktop application). IMO a needless switch.

            With previous versions of Windows I selected the "Start" button, a menu popped up, I selected the program I wanted, and it started. No full screen switch just to start a program.

            It the new behavior a show stopper? Certainly not. Maybe it's so many years of using Windows the "old" way but I've been using Windows 8 on my PC for about six months now and I still prefer the "old" way.
        • retirement

          That PC needs to find a nice place for retirement. Or Linux. Time to get something new, open up that wallet, and let to moths fly! We don't drive Pintos these days ;)
          • Uh huh

            Good thing I built a new workstation with an i7-3930K, 64GB of RAM, a P9X79 Motherboard, 520-series 256GB SSD, 3TB Seagate HDD, X-Fi Fatal1ty card, and a GTX690, huh?
          • And you probably did that with less...

            ..than a similarly priced iMac... except, you know, you can't actually BUY and iMac with those specs...
      • And 6 years?

        My iMac was cut off at Lion. No more support, no upgrade path, just more vulnerabilities every month... It works fine with the latest Linux and Windows 8, it just doesn't work with OS X...
        • And 6 years?

          " It works fine with the latest Linux"

          Then install the latest Linux, tweak the GUI to look like OS/X, and Be Happy. Once there, start saving your pennies for a nice new MacBook Air !
          • Why?

            Out of all the companies or developers behind the technologies that wright_is uses on his iMac, the one who flat-out refuses to offer him any form of support is Apple. Why should he give any more of his hard-earned cash to the one company that clearly values him the least?
          • Uh, he's talking about 6 year-old hardware.

            He obviously hasn't given any of hard-earned cash to Apple lately.
          • And, "Uh", you're talking out your arse...

            "Uh, he's talking about 6 year-old hardware. He obviously hasn't given any of hard-earned cash to Apple lately."

            Uh... Okay a couple of things:

            1) I was responding to LeMike's suggestion of "start saving your pennies for a new MacBook Air". Little reading comprehension goes a long way.. just sayin'...
          • And two...

            ..(thanks for eating my comment, ZDnet).. :)

            2) How do you know he hasn't given any more money to Apple? Could very well be he has other, newer computers. I have a 400MHz G3 iMac still in my basement that the kids use to play some old games, doesn't mean I didn't spend money on the Core i7 beast of a desktop sitting in my office.