Security Threats Rising For Apple Macs

Mac OS malware

From 2003 to 2005, the number of vulnerabilities discovered on the Mac OS platform has soared 228 percent to 143 from 45, McAfee Inc. said in a report entitled "The New Apple of Malware's Eye: Is Mac OS X The Next Windows?" Microsoft Corp.'s Windows platform, on the other hand, saw an increase of 73 percent.

For years, Apple computers have had too small a market share to attract the interest of virus writers and hackers, but with Mac sales rising and the iPod accounting for two thirds of the portable media player market, "security researchers and hackers will increasingly point their digital lock picks toward the Mac OS and other Apple products," the report said.

McAfee believes Apple is in the early stages of malware evolution, where viruses are written and spread as proofs-of-concept to demonstrate that the applications work and to bring notoriety to the creators. Nevertheless, the release this year of the first malware attacking the Mac OS X platform -- OSX/Leap -- and malicious code exploiting previously unknown vulnerabilities shows that virus writers are taking the Mac OS more seriously, McAfee said.

Apple addressed the security flaws in March with a patch fixing 20 vulnerabilities. The Cupertino, Calif., computer maker recently released a second set of patches correcting 15 more security flaws.

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Apple's introduction this year of Intel Macs is expected to "usher a whole new era for Macintosh malware," McAfee said, since the machines are capable of running Mac OS X and Windows.

The security firm also warned that Apple security threats go beyond the Mac. Four vulnerabilities, for example, were discovered last year in iTunes, Apple's popular software for downloading and managing digital music. In February of this year, Slurp became the first iPod-transported malware.

None of the recent attacks on Apple products spread widely, but the easy availability of malicious source code on the Internet, and the opportunity to make money, means hackers are sure to launch more malware, the firm said. As a result, Mac users would be wise to rethink their "safe harbor logic."

"While the threats targeting the Mac operating system are low in volume, the use of Apple products does not provide an invisibility cloak from malware," Stuart McClure, senior vice president of global threats at McAfee, said in an email. "Users need to be more vigilant about security as adoption rates soar and attacks on Apple operating systems increase.”