Apple, Inc. (AAPL) long had the good fortune (from a certain perspective) of not being very popular with consumers and thus gaining security through obscurity. With millions of Macs in the wild and Apple sitting pretty in fourth place in PC sales, though, the company is seeing an increasing number of malware attacks.
I. The Customers Want the Truth? They Can’t HANDLE the Truth!
In response to these attacks Apple has reportedly implemented a policy which is equal measures bizarre and baffling — it’s telling technicians to adopt a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy with regards to customers complaints about malware, feigning ignorance on the topic.
An Apple Store Genius (store technician) leaked internal documents to ArsTechnica. One memo reads:
Apple Internal Use Only – Issue/Investigation in Progress – Confidential Information – Do Not Disclose Externally
Customers may call AppleCare to report and issue with malware (trojan) software known as Mac Defender or Mac Security, or because they are concerned that their Mac could become infected. The name may vary as new variants are released onto the internet. This malware is installed from malicious websites.
Mac OS X 10.6, Mac OS X 10.5, Mac OS X 10.4
A second memo adds:
The disgusted Apple employee is quoted as stating, “Frankly, it’s Social Engineering at it’s finest. In some respects, I feel a little bad for the people hit by this, but at the same time, I can’t help but be frustrated that people inherently trust everything they’re prompted to do on their machines. The beauty of Mac OS X is its security model. That people blindly enter a password is going to be the undoing of it.”
(The employee’s comments allude to that Apple’s OS requires users to verify installations using a feature similar to the UAC found in Windows 7.)
II. How Widespread is the problem?
Andy says that in the past about 0.2 percent of service Macs were suffering from some kind of malware — “most always DNS trojans.” Now that number soared to around 5.8 percent, mostly thanks to MacDefender — a trojan that Global Tech News previously reported on.
The employee states, “There’s been a very real uptick in the number of malware instances we’ve seen.”
“With regard to how the company is dealing with it, the answer is not very well,” he adds. “As you know, OS X requires an admin user to authenticate and OK the install for pretty much anything that’s not drag and drop. The response has been a case of ‘they installed it, so it’s not our problem.’ Until something that makes use of a zero-day exploit hits, I really doubt that we’re going to do anything, technology wise, to address this.”
But is the OS X security model really superior to Windows 7?
Famed Mac security expert Charlie Miller, who won multiple years for the fast Mac hack at Pwn2Own, comments, “Mac OS X is no more secure than any other operating system. It has vulnerabilities, and it will let you download and run malware. The difference is that there simply isn’t that much malware written for it. The bad guys have focused all their energies at Windows, which makes up the vast majority of the computers out there. However, as market share for Macs continues to inch up, that equation is going to change and bad guys will begin to focus in on Macs, if that hasn’t already started to happen. And as I mentioned above, Macs are no more inherently secure than Windows, so when the bad guys decide to go after them with gusto, it’ll get ugly fast.”
Other hackers have also commented that OS X 10.6 (“Snow Leopard”) has inferior security to Windows 7. To boot, Apple doesn’t provide users with free antimalware software like Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) does.
III. How Long Can Apple Keep up the Charade?
In recent months botnet-forming worms and trojans have targeted OS X. Most of these pieces of malware have been amateurish efforts, though, or works in progress. Nonetheless it remains a very real possibility that Apple could one day see a serious attack.
The question remains how long Apple can continue to manage to deceive its customers and obfuscate the fact that its platform has malware on it, and that the threat is growing.
But the line still seems to be working on the most gullible of Mac users. For example in our coverage of the MacDefender infection one pro-Apple commentator and self proclaimed “expert”, “TonySwash” wrote:
In the real world actual and successful malware attacks on Macs are virtually unknown, and if there are any at all the number is vanishingly small.
The really embarrassing thing is not that Windows get’s (sic) all that malware, that’s just the result of piss poor design decisions going back decades, what’s really shameful is the way that some Windows fans choose to deal with this reality. They deny it. It’s not Microsoft or Windows faults (sic), it’s everybody’s problem, or if it’s not everybody’s problem then its (sic) some sort of perverse reflection of Windows strength (sic).
Eventually Apple may have to face the music, though, particularly if customers take legal action against it for feigning ignorance, now that corporate documents have revealed that Apple is well aware of the attacks on its platform.
There’s plenty of things you can fault Microsoft and the Windows platform for, but one thing you can say in their favor is that at least when they encounter malware they try to help customers and counter rather than claiming their products are “magic” and have no problems.
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