One of the questions I am most often asked has to do with the supposed “immunity” of Mac. The first thing I always explain is that no system is invulnerable, and that in the case of Apple, it is not renowned for paying much attention to leopard-logosecurity. Depending on the person’s fondness for Apple, the tone of my reply may vary, yet the reaction is invariably one of surprise: “Really? I’ve been using Mac for years, and as far as I know I haven’t been infected.”

This statement is always true: as far as they know they haven’t been infected. In fact, they quite probably haven’t been infected. Is there malware designed for Apple? Of course there is, and it’s been around for quite some time. In fact, in the last year we have seen cyber-crooks beginning to focus on Mac. We have seen them distribute malware using drive-by-download techniques, previously checking the operating system to determine whether to install a Windows Trojan or a Mac Trojan.

In any event, there is no comparison between the amount of malware for PCs and for Mac. In the time it takes you to read this post, more new PC malware has been created than all the malware for Mac that has ever existed :). In the end, malware creators seek financial benefits and use their resources to target the most popular platforms. This makes Windows-based systems the most profitable target. Microsoft has been aware of this situation for years, and although it has been widely criticized in the past due to its perceived carefree attitude, it responded a long time ago. This does not mean security flaws in Microsoft products have totally disappeared, but in most cases, they are quickly csafari-300x300orrected. The default activation of automatic updates from Windows XP Service Pack 2 has been highly useful, as most users were protected by default with the patches being automatically installed and the security holes closed.

Few people were able to predict the consequences of this policy. Hackers’ priority had always been to search for security holes in different versions of Microsoft’s operating system. They began to observe which applications were most popular among users and to look for new flaws to infect their computers. Browsers were one of their first targets, as they were used by everyone to surf the Net. First it was Internet Explorer, but as soon as Firefox became popular, they also targeted it. Other browsers followed, as their aim was to infect and steal information from as many people as possible.

However, they didn’t stop there and we have since seen many applications being attacked in order to be used as a means of infection: Quicktime, Acrobat Reader, Flash, etc. We have seen exploits in graphic files; we can’t even be apple_computer2certain that we are safe when viewing holiday photos 😉

Meanwhile, Apple has become more popular. It still isn’t cyber-crooks’ main objective, as it doesn’t have enough users, but it is starting to arouse interest. Mac users should raise their voices and ask the company they are paying (Apple) to take security seriously.

But, is the problem that serious? Is Apple so careless regarding security? This week the CanSecWest 2010 is taking place in Vancouver, Canada. During the conference, Charlie Miller (known for uncovering different security flaws in Mac) will explain 20 different ways of running code remotely. That’s twenty!! He also claims to have found these vulnerabilities by using a 5-line script in Python. Finally, Charlie has offered us the best analogy I have read about security differences between Windows and Mac:

“Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town.”

It can be said louder, but not clearer.