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Apple’s Lion OS X stores passwords insecurely, with the updated OS appearing to be more vulnerable than its previous Snow Leopard and Leopard versions, according to a BetaNews report.

Apple’s OS X passwords can only be changed by a computer’s administrator. The OS encrypts them and then stores them as “shadow files” on the disk drive in what should be a secure location.
 
Defence in Depth security blog identified the running issue in 2009, which was evident in versions 10.4, 10.5 and 10.6, and blogged that the issue is still prevalent in Lion.

However it’s even easier to steal computer passwords in Lion.

In previous versions of OS X, administrator privileges were needed to make the hack work. In Lion, any user can search the directory for the hash file, which is the file needed to decode the encryption.

“It appears in the redesign of OS X Lion’s authentication scheme a critical step has been overlooked,” Defence in Depth’s Patrick Dunstan wrote.

Dunstan recognised that users without admin clearance won’t be able to access the hash file directory, but it isn’t needed when the hash data is accessible from directory services.

The issue would be much worse if the data could be accessed remotely, with hackers easily stealing catalogues of security passwords. Still, the fact the passwords are accessible locally is a big issue for Apple’s OS, considering the security prone software is meant to be “the world’s most advanced desktop operating system” according to Apple.

In the meantime, Mac users should disable all guest accounts and automatic login, so the computer requires an admin password at each start up.

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