Security

Mac security software sales jump in wake of Flashback

Sales of Mac security software have jumped since news broke last week about a massive malware infection of Apple computers, according to some antivirus vendors and Mac App Store statistics.

"We've seen a substantial increase in both sales and downloads of trial versions of our software," said Peter James, a spokesman for French security company Intego. "Part of this is certainly due to Flashback."

Intego, which develops and sells only Mac antivirus software, is best known for VirusBarrier V6, which sells for $50. (A 30-day free trial of the software is also available.)

James did not provide sales figures for Intego's security software or specify the increase his company has seen since a Russian antivirus firm said more than 600,000 Macs had been infected with Flashback.

Other security providers echoed James.

"It would be true to say that we have seen a rise in the download rates of our free antivirus for Mac home users," said Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant with U.K.-based Sophos.

Sophos, which sells security software only to enterprises and organizations, also offers a free Mac product to consumers: Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition.

Several other companies that sell Mac security software, including Symantec and F-Secure, did not reply to questions about their recent sales trends.

Off the charts

Statistics from Apple's Mac App Store also indicate an increased interest in Mac antivirus apps.

BitDefender Virus Scanner is currently number 18 on the App Store's top 200 list of the most popular free programs. That's down one spot from an earlier high of 15, according to AppShopper. BitDefender's app has been on that list for just 16 days.

ClamXav ( ), another free antivirus program for the Mac, is currently at number 14 on that top 200 list, down four spots from its previous high point, but up from the number 97 spot that it held on April 2— two days before news of the Flashback infection began in earnest.

Meanwhile, Kaspersky's Virus Scanner is at number 94 on the App Store paid list and Intego's VirusBarrier Plus is at number 100.

The spike in downloads and sales didn't surprise Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group, which tracks retail software sales in the U.S.

Although NPD doesn't have specific sales data for Mac antivirus software during the last week—it takes the company longer than that to acquire and compile the numbers—Baker said there's a strong link between security threats and sales.

"Historically, we have always seen a jump in security sales that correlate to highly publicized security issues," said Baker in an email reply to questions. "[But] the spike seems to be declining over the years as more consumers use and recognize the importance of security software."

Some Mac owners have been skeptical of the claims that Flashback has infected hundreds of thousands of machines, and have accused antivirus vendors like Dr. Web and Kaspersky—the two Russian companies that have calculated the extent of the malware infection—of hyping the threat to sell software.

One Sophos executive addressed those critics in a blog post today.

"For those of you inclined to let rip in the comments that I'm only discussing Mac malware, and talking up the risks, because we happen to have a free product to 'sell' you, please consider an alternative explanation," argued Paul Ducklin, who heads Sophos Asia-Pacific technology team. "Perhaps the reason we have a free product to 'sell' is because we think there is a genuine risk?"

Apple, which updated Java for Mac OS X on April 3 to quash the bug Flashback has been exploiting, has promised to release a free detect-and-delete tool.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld.

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