At its default setting, Gatekeeper, which has roots in moves Apple has been making with OS X for several years, is a set-and-forget "whitelist," or list of approved programs. "It's like a giant whitelist button," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Security, of Gatekeeper.
Some security experts were enthusiastic about Gatekeeper.
Rich Mogull, a security consultant and former Gartner analyst, called it a game-changer in a post he wrote for the TidBits blog Thursday. And in a more technical description of Gatekeeper on his firm's blog, he argued it would attack hackers where it hurts.
"Gatekeeper attacks the economics of widespread malware," Mogull said. "If most users use it, and as the default, that's extremely likely, it will hammer on the profitability of phishing-based Trojans."
Steven Frank, a co-founder of Portland, Ore.-based Mac application developer Panic, judged Gatekeeper as "quite a nice compromise" between the locked-down model Apple uses in iOS -- which some Mac developers feared would migrate to OS X, requiring all software to come through the Mac App Store -- and the free-for-all of installing anything found anywhere.
"We think Gatekeeper is a bold new feature that should do wonders for the security of your Mac for years to come," Frank wrote Thursday on Panic's blog.
Others were skeptical of Gatekeeper's ability to stymie determined attackers.
"Checking signatures [the] first time a downloaded program runs is not the same as mandatory code-signing like iOS has," said Charlie Miller, a principal research consultant for Denver-based security consultant Accuvant and noted Mac and iOS vulnerability researcher, in a tweet yesterday.
Miller was referring to Gatekeeper's practice of examining the certificate of a Mac app only once, as it's downloaded and before it's installed: If the certificate is invalid, or has been revoked, the user cannot install it. But already-installed applications remain on a Mac and can continue to be run even after Apple revokes the certificate.
That's different from the code signing required of iOS apps, which prevents them from using unauthorized commands once they're downloaded and installed. (Miller knows code-signing: Last November, he demonstrated a bug in iOS that let him circumvent Apple's iOS App Store code signing .)
And security researcher Chet Wisniewski, who works for U.K.-based antivirus company Sophos, pointed out that Gatekeeper won't stymie several malware attack tactics.
"[Because] Gatekeeper code signing only applies to executable files ... anything that is not itself a Trojan, like malicious PDFs, Flash, shell scripts and Java will still be able to be exploited without triggering a prompt," Wisniewski said on the Sophos blog late Thursday.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed.
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