Apple Security Update 2007-004 stuffed my Mac

Ok, this may be guilt by association, but since allowing this update to install last Friday, I have experienced serious problems. Many other folks around the web have reported problems with this update, but I haven’t yet found any postings covering the issues I encountered.

In recent years, I have been of the opinion that it is best to keep up-to-date with the latest patches, as the security risk of not being patched out-weighs the risk of the patch itself causing problems. This is the first time I have had cause to doubt this approach.

This entry attempts to describe some of the problems and the efforts I made to fix them. However I should probably have done this from the outset and saved myself a lot of time. I still have some residual problems, but the worst of it seems over. Note: None of this constitutes advice. Repeat any of my actions at your own risk.

The machine concerned is a Mac Dual 1GHz G4 Mirror.

My user data, and work data are all regularly backed-up using Retrospect, and I keep all my work data on a non-system disk. So I was able to tinker around confident in the fact all my important data is protected. However I don’t currently back-up the system or applications. The theory being that they can be restored by a fresh install of both the system and applications. That said, it would take a long time!

The symptoms…

  1. Firefox would crash almost immediately on launch
  2. FontBook crashed immediately on launch
  3. Most other applications would ‘unexpectedly quit’ after a few minutes operation. Such applications include:
    1. Safari
    2. Mail
    3. DreamWeaver
    4. Terminal
    5. TextWrangler
    6. The Dock !!!

Re-installing Firefox had no effect. It still crashed at the point after rendering the Mozilla title bar in the default site.

However, of these (3) is the most serious. Apart from anything else, crashing applications degrade document data over time. My first instinct was to think this may be due to a hardware problem, specifically failing memory?

I ran Apple Hardware Test a number of times, after-which I was relatively confident that the memory was ok. No problems were reported.

Using the Console utility to view the crash reports, it was clear that the applications where crashing each with the same instruction…

Exception: EXC_BAD_INSTRUCTION (0x0002)
Code[0]: 0x00000002
Code[1]: 0x902d6690
Thread 0 Crashed:
0 ATS 0x902d6690 AnnexFileFlushUnusedAnnexEntries + 24
1 ATS 0x902d5f54 ActiveContainerTimerFired(__CFRunLoopTimer*, __CFDictionary const*) + 248

I had no idea what ATS was at this stage. But stands for Apple Type Services. There are various MacFixIt articles describing some fixes with respect to ATS cache files. So I did spend a whole load of time as Super User in Terminal, deleting / moving the cache files and restarting to see if there was any difference – there was not!

I later read that starting in Safe Mode should effectively clear the user’s ATS cache, and only activates system fonts. However even in this mode, applications continued to crash in the same way.

My next consideration was that I may have a damaged font? So I ended up paying to upgrade my Suitcase X1 to Suitcase Fusion which includes FontDoctor. (My old copy of FontDoctor simply quit immediately when trying to launch it with the system in this state.) The new FontDoctor did run and did find fault with two of the system fonts – something to do with a finder flag. These were repaired. That solved the problem with regards to FontBook crashes. The remainder of the crashes continued.

The only thing that worked…

I downloaded and installed “Mac OS X 10.4.9 Combo Update (PPC)” from the Apple Downloads page. BUT! My first attempt was to do this on the machine concerned. Big mistake! The install failed, and at that point the machine would not shut-down normally nor would it fully start-up again when re-powered.

Fortunately I had an old G3 PowerBook to hand. Combined with a FireWire cable, I restarted the G4 in Target mode and re-installed the combo update onto the G4’s system drive from the PowerBook. (That’s the first time I’ve used Target mode and I’m well impressed – really useful)

This worked. I no-longer have applications crashing. Firefox now works fine. OpenOffice still failed, but once that had been re-installed, that is now working fine.

Residual problems…

There are still some residual issues I need to track down. For instance I can no-longer connect to my Windows server through SMB. It gives error type -50 – what that means I have no idea.

I can also see that I continually get errors I suspect from my use of RSS in Safari which seems to occur for each feed I am subscribed to.

2007-04-24 12:21:29.002 SyndicationAgent[410] WARNING: BestCalendarDateFromString – can’t interpret: ‘Tue 24 Apr 2007 03:12:14 -800’

In future…

  • Maybe it is time I started backing up the system and applications in addition to my home dir and projects drive – allowing me a quick revert should this kind of system update mess things up again in future.
  • Maybe I should give an update a week or so for brave soles to try out, before adopting it myself.

UPDATE 30/4/2007: Today I re-installed the security update. Doing so did not re-introduce the problems described above, and seems to have solved one of the residual problems: I can once more connect via SMB.

Posted by creacog

Product Owner/Manager; Digital Project Manager, ex-Developer Available for Product Owner roles


me too–i’m a novice- have had imac , first computer for six months. this latest patch is causing weird problems. Random things work then don’t work. Since apple doesn’t tell us much I don’t know if I really needed to do the patch. I can’t help but wonder if the crowd in Cupertino is so stressed with iPhone, a new notebook (my hope) and Leopard if they just don’t have the staff and basically enough sleep to get these puppies out the door fully functional. I too will no longer do patches for a week. I am ticked. I paid Apple prices for Apple level quality. If this becomes a baby PC then I’ll buy four Dell notebooks and toss ’em into e-recycle when they clog. Even doing disc utillity didn’t work right. It beachballed. Asked for password-then didn’t require password. I am very worried I may have a eight inch wide beach ball next and it will be cooked beyond all hope. Also worried that this is the second patch that weired out machine. The last one seemed to “cool it” after a few days. Afraid this one is snarkier. And will Apple even know what they did?

“Since apple doesn’t tell us much I don’t know if I really needed to do the patch.”

To quote Apple: “Security Update 2007-004 is recommended for all users…”

Let’s hope this remains ‘unusual’ and that normal service will be resumed in subsequent updates. I sent plenty of crash reports to Apple in the process of solving my issues. If others have done the same, Apple stand a chance of 1. Recognising there was a problem, and 2. sorting it out for next time. Fingers crossed.

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