Apple To Launch New Mac OS X Snow Leopard With Antimalware

The new antimalware feature, which Apple slipped into the upcoming release of Snow Leopard, provides antivirus and Web-scanning tools designed to combat a surge of malicious files that has targeted the Mac OS X platform in recent months.

The addition of antimalware seems to contradict the company's claims that its Mac OS X is virus-proof, security experts say.

"It will mark a fundamental change in that Apple will be admitting that their operating system is as susceptible to malware as other operating systems," said Mac expert Charlie Miller, co-author of the "The Mac Handbook," in a statement.

And if the addition of antimalware isn't enough of an acknowledgment that Mac is increasingly susceptible to viruses and Trojans, Apple's Mac OS X Web page recommends that users install a third-party antivirus solution for "additional protection" against viruses and Mac Trojans.

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Specifically, Apple says that its new scanner screens for malware disguised as benign applications on Safari, Mail and iChat, with a feature that alerts users to the possible threat once the questionable file is opened. The scanner also inspects digital signatures to verify that the application wasn't altered after it was created.

Apple also touts that its new antimalware feature protects users against hacking techniques that include "sandboxing," which restricts actions that programs can perform on the Mac, as well as what files they can access and other programs they can launch. And the Apple security updates will be automatically downloaded and installed with a single click, Apple said.

The antimalware feature was first reported by Mac security company Intego, which posted a screenshot on its company blog of an application working with a download made via Safari that detected a version of the RSPlug Trojan horse for Mac in a downloaded disk image.

Since then, the blogosphere has contended that the new antimalware feature will likely be provided by a third-party security vendor.

Meanwhile, Apple is beefing up its overall security for Mac with an array of new features that puts it on par with some of its PC counterparts, experts say.

The new Snow Leopard includes ramped-up security features such as enhanced parental control and password assistant features.

Apple also has added updated features in FileVault that enable users to encrypt all files in their folders, and allows them to more easily adjust their firewall settings to block online intruders.

As a whole, the company has been investing more in the security arena. Apple said it was working with the incident-response community, including the Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams and the FreeBSD Security Team.

"Apple hasn't implemented all the security features that Vista has. They made some improvements in Leopard, but they are still behind," Miller said.

Apple's call to arms regarding security is a response to a burgeoning trend of malware created to target the Mac OS X. Starting in January, Mac users were pummeled with two variants of a Mac-only iServices Trojan distributed via pirated versions of Apple's productivity suite iWords and cracked Adobe Photoshop CS4 applications. Researchers later discovered in April that both Trojan variants developed into full-fledged Mac botnets.

Mac also suffered from a Java vulnerability this spring, after Apple security researcher Landon Fuller published exploit code in May highlighting what many experts called Apple's laissez-faire attitude about security. The Java error was made public and patched by its creator Sun Microsystems in December 2008, but remained unaddressed by Apple until June.