There are bug fixes and there are bug fixes. And then there are bug fixes so severe that they need to be plugged up immediately. But no matter how fast software providers try to patch up things on their end, bad users habits sometimes mean that these patches don’t get downloaded or applied immediately, if at all. That is why Apple is making use of a feature it already had launched two years ago to deliver a critical bug fix to Mac users without them having to lift a finger.
The bug in this case revolves around NTP or the network time protocol. NTP is an important operating system component that automatically syncs the computer clock with the network for a more accurate time and date setting. Last week, a vulnerability in NTP was discovered that would let hackers gain control of a system with relative ease. Among those pointed out to be potentially affected were Apple’s computers.
Given the severity of the issue, Apple immediately made a fix available. But also given the severity of the issue, it decided that it wasn’t enough just to make it available. It had to really push it down to users, without having to ask their permission first. With regular patches and updates, users have to make a conscious effort and action to download and install them. At the very least, they will be notified that such an update exists for them to download. But end users aren’t always the best system administrators and this is one case where Apple believed that the end justifies the means. Curiously, the capability to push and install updates automatically without user interaction or intervention has been around for about two years now, but Apple just never got around to using it.
Perhaps it held off on using these new powers to shy away from controversy. As much as automated systems can be beneficial in cases such as these, they can also be seen as double edged swords. Now the public is more aware that Apple indeed has the ability to push out software updates and patches without user intervention, maybe even without user knowledge, and they can perhaps be more critical of such powers that can be open to abuse.