Mac OS X vulnerabilities jump 228 percent in three years

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Security experts warned today that malware attacks targeting Macintosh OS X are on the rise - and by no small margin.

According to McAfee Avert Labs, Mac platform vulnerability discovery rates have increased by 228 percent in the past three years alone, from 45 in 2003 to 143 last year.

By comparison, Microsoft's products saw a 73-percent increase in vulnerabilities over the same time period.

Apple's recent shift to Intel microprocessors in new Macs only raises the firm's profile and increases Mac users' exposure. As Macintosh computers gain ground in the PC market on the coattails of popular iPod and iTunes products, McAfee believes that hackers will increasingly point their digital "lock picks" toward OS X and other products.

Moreover, as demonstrated with their recent patches, Mac OS platform is just as vulnerable to targeted malware attacks as other OSs.

"Many believe that using an Apple operating system is a form of security in itself, believing that they are far less susceptible to malware than Windows users," said Stuart McClure, senior vice president, global threats at McAfee. "And 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, and users need to be more vigilant about security as adoption rates soar and attacks on Apple operating systems increase."

The security firm also said that Apple appears to be in early stages of malware evolution, where exploits are written and spread as proofs-of-concept to demonstrate authors' technical prowess and garner notoriety. McAfee said that this incentive, coupled with the easy availability of Mac exploit code on the internet, will make the Mac an open target for malware.

Although the number of OS X-targeted viruses has been relatively low in total volume since January 2004, McAfee Avert Labs predicts that the growing number of Macintosh vulnerabilities will attract more and more talented hackers over the course of the next year and beyond.

Copyright © SC Magazine, US edition

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