Just as attacks against Macs were beginning in earnest, and security software makers were ready to step into this new market and begin selling customers security suites, Apple dropped a bomb on the security software vendors — OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” comes with built-in malware detection for a few Mac-specific viruses.
Apple, which has long lambasted Windows PCs as dangerously insecure in its advertisements, brags that its new OS offers unmatched protection against malware and cyber-attacks. It points to hardware-based execution control for heap memory, stronger checksums for preventing memory corruption attacks, and built in antivirus protection — dubbed XProtect — as strong improvements in its OS design.
Now security companies are responding to Apple’s boasts via blogs and emails that range from skeptical to scathing.
Symantec was among the most critical, stating, “It is not a full-featured antivirus solution and does not have the ability to remove malware from the system. File Quarantine is also signature-based only. Malware signatures are only as good as the definitions, requiring Apple to provide regular, timely updates.”
The company points out that OS X’s Software Update is not fully automatic and that it does not inform users what signatures have been downloaded, to indicate the current level of protection. They also criticize that Apple’s firewall is turned off by default and lacks the configurability of most third-party solutions. Also they point out that the OS provides little to no protection against unauthorized access of sensitive information on disc or for information being transmitted over networks. Finally, they say that Apple’s reliance on site lists for its anti-phishing efforts make its blocking close to useless as the attacking sites typically change on a daily basis.
Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security, also criticized the new software. “It feels like they are just trying to put a tic mark in the anti-malware compliance box for the enterprise customers they are still trying to woo. So far, it looks like a pretty ‘featureless feature.’ Compared to other third party options, the functionality is pretty low. It’s a lot like getting a warranty on your car that only covers floor mats, ” he remarks.
Sophos researcher Paul O Baccas takes a more measured approach, stating that Apple’s XProtect may be somewhat useful for certain programs — Entourage, Safari, Mail, Firefox, Thunderbird — which call LSQuarantine, an XProtect utility that detects malware. However, for Skype, Adium, BitTorrent and Apple’s Finder — USB drives, shared network volumes, etc. — there is no protection, he conversely points out. He elaborates, “They haven’t really integrated an antivirus program. They’ve added something which can block some malware under some conditions.”
He does say that the changes are better than nothing, however. Apple meanwhile, refused to directly respond or comment on the criticism from security software vendors.
Security vendors will be facing a double-whammy when Microsoft officially releases its more full-featured security solution for Windows XP, Vista, and the new Windows 7. Microsoft is set to drop this free security suite, dubbed Microsoft Security Essentials, before the end of the year.
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