Apple plays catch-up, adds anti-fraud safeguard to Safari

Also patches 11 bugs in Windows browser, 4 in the Mac version

Apple Friday added anti-phishing protection to Safari, the last major browser to receive the feature that blocks known identity-stealing sites. The company also patched 11 security bugs in the program, the bulk of them specific to the Microsoft Windows version.

Released Thursday, Safari 3.2 includes a new feature, dubbed "Fraudulent sites" in the browser's options listing. However, Apple did not update either Safari's help file or its online documentation with any additional information about the tool, including how it works, what database it uses to "blacklist" sites and whether it relays URLs back to Apple for checking or relies on a locally-stored database.

The Safari 3.2 end-user licensing agreement (EULA) does not include any mention of the new tool, and Apple did not respond to questions about the feature.

Apple nearly pulled the trigger on an anti-phishing add-in in 2007, when it had planned to incorporate it into Safari 3.0. However, it dropped the feature prior to releasing the browser as part of the upgrade to Mac OS X 10.5, also known as Leopard, in October 2007.

Earlier this year, PayPal, eBay's payment service and the frequent target of fraudsters, announced it would block browsers that don't include anti-phishing features from accessing its site. Of the then-current major browsers, only Apple's lacked such a feature. A few days later, however, PayPal backed off, saying it had no intention of keeping Safari users from its site.

At the time, PayPal also said that the lack of support for Extended Validation (EV) certificates, a more regulated version of SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates, would bar a browser from its service as well. EVs are meant to reassure users that the online site is legitimate; browsers that support them typically signal that the site is safe by a change to the address bar.

Apple's announcement that it had added support for EVs was cryptic: The only mention was in the typically-terse description of the 3.2 update, which said "features ... better identification of online businesses."

Unlike rival browsers such as Mozilla's Firefox and Microsoft's Internet Explorer, however, Safari doesn't modify the address bar when it reaches a site with an EV certificate. Instead, it adds a small button to the upper right of the window that names the company owning the certificate. A small locked padlock symbol appears beside the button. Clicking on the button brings up details on the certificate.

Apple also patched 11 vulnerabilities in the Windows version, and four in the Mac OS X edition, with the upgrade to Safari 3.2.

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