Infoworld: Hackers take aim at Mac OS X

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Editor’s Note: The following article is excerpted from Infoworld and its feature on The Top 10 Underreported Stories of 2007. To see a slideshow on the underreported stories, click here.

The Story: It’s not often that an analyst covering computer security issues tells you that he doesn’t do much to protect his systems. But one reputable analyst I know said just that as we talked about the rising threat of malware aimed at Apple’s hardware. I won’t mention his name, but the gentleman is dead wrong. The days when you can assume that Apple’s products are exempt from harm are over.

Is it time to panic? No, actual attacks against Macs and the rest of the Apple family, such as the iPhone, are still rare. But as the platform becomes more and more popular, hackers are gearing up to do damage. You’d better protect yourself.

“Most Mac users take security too lightly. In fact, most are quite proud of the fact that they don’t run any security at all,” says IDC analyst Chris Christiansen. “That’s an open door; at some point it will be exploited,” he says.

First some numbers: In 2006, the National Institute of Standards and Testing (NIST) tabulated 106 “vulnerabilities” in Apple’s Mac OS X. (It defines vulnerabilities as a weakness in the code that could be exploited to perform unauthorized, and generally harmful, functions by the application.) In the first six months of 2007 there were 78 vulnerabilities found in Mac OS X. Windows XP (all flavors), meanwhile, had 55 vulnerabilities in 2006 and 19 in the first six months of 2007. Vista, which wasn’t available in 2006, chalked up 19 vulnerabilities in 2007.

In a sense, Apple is a victim of its own success. Savvy hackers read the same stories and watch the same television programs as the rest of us, and so they are very aware of the burgeoning popularity of Apple’s products. Hacking Windows still provides a lot more bang per bug than attacks on Apple, but the smaller rival is a more satisfying target than ever before. And the company’s deserved reputation for building good products has probably made users overconfident.

“Apple has better commercials, but the Mac is no harder to break into than a Windows PC,” says Gartner security analyst John Pescatore. What’s more, most IT shops can automatically patch large numbers of PCs at the same time, while Macs generally have to be patched one at a time, he said.

The Bottom Line: Actual attacks on the Mac platform are still unusual. But as it becomes a juicier target, that will change. Why take a chance? Give a lot more thought to securing your Macs this year.

Infoworld’s Top 10 Underreported Stories of 2007

  1. Java is becoming the new Cobol
  2. Sun Microsystems is back in the game
  3. Hackers take aim at Mac OS X
  4. There are some threats you can worry less about
  5. Companies may have found a way around H-1B visa limits
  6. Open source's new commercial strategy
  7. End-to-end Ethernet finally arrives
  8. Blade servers arrive for the masses
  9. BI is dead; long live BI
  10. Balance of power shifts to software buyers

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