Time to Take Security Seriously
The malware-free times of Mac users are behind us permanently. Mac OS X Trojan, MacDefender, Mac Security, Mac Protector (and the biggest of all) Flashback (is back). Although Apple has a small segment of the computer market, its owners are a richer demographic. "If you can spend (US)$2,000 for a MacBook, you've got money". "Cybercriminals are smart... These bad guys want to get a look at the 'Mac' user's bank accounts now.
First, with the release of Windows 7, it's time to stop making fun of Windows for having swiss cheese for security. Microsoft made security a major focus for this operating system, and it did make some solid progress in the job of plugging the old leaks that plagued Windows users for years.
Second, Macs are apparently not much more or less secure than Windows machines. That's right, all that "Macs can't get viruses" and "OS X is such a secure operating system" bravado is not completely accurate. Remember, Man makeable is Man breakable.
Most security experts agree that although Windows computers are more likely to experience an attack than Macs, They are not less secure.
This is essentially a market share issue. It makes economic sense for cybercriminals to use a piece of malware to attack the greatest number of machines possible; if you're an entrepreneur (criminal or legitimate), you want to get the most bang for your buck. Attacking Windows machines is more lucrative because there are so many more of them. (Granted, older and unpatched Windows machines are easy targets regardless of market share, but that's beside the point.)
In other words, the reason your Mac has never been infected with anything has less to do with your operating system and much, much more to do with the fact that most criminals simply haven't bothered to create very many malware attacks for Macs. But, as you can see, this is no longer the case.
The Attack of Flashback
The Flashback Trojan is the biggest infection experienced by Mac users to date. Malware programs are designed to harvest user information that can be sold to third parties, or used for fraudulent activities. Flashback was initially detected by Russian Antivirus firm Dr Webb (and confirmed by security giant Kaspersky on April 9, 2012) to be quietly running on upwards of 700,000 Macs. Users are lured to infected Web pages that send a malware downloader to their computers as soon as they land on the page. Once the Trojan is installed it sends a message to the intruder's control server with a unique ID to identify the infected machine. By introducing the code criminals are potentially able to control the machine. To see if your infected you can Download FlashbackChecker from Github.
Interestingly, Flashback Trojan is a Java vulnerability, and the actual exploit is OS independent, so (malware writers) don't have to know how to write an OS X exploit. The result is that 98% of infected systems are Macs. Infections are not just resident to operating systems, the mitigating issue is increasingly the 'browser'. Browsers do not care what OS you're using.
The Macs have outpaced the PC industry for 23 straight quarters. As more people buy Macs we will see more Mac OS X targeting (malware). The weak point In this particular instance; the malware writers were targeting Java (a runtime which is used for anything from enterprise applications to popular 3D games). HTML5--a Web standard in progress that Apple, Microsoft, and other browser makers are helping to build--holds the same type of threat for future attacks.
How To Stay Safe
Today, the argument about which OS (operating system) is better is more or less moot. This is because although viruses and other "classic" types of malware still exist and are threats, you're more likely to be hit with a social engineering attacks such as phishing which depend on tricking users into giving up personal information, visiting a poisonous Web site, or clicking a bad link. If you don't fall for the traps, you'll significantly reduce your chances of a malicious attack. Additionally, many attacks come through vulnerabilities in Web browsers and software, which has nothing significant to do with which operating system they're running on.
To protect our computers from threats, we have to be wise about the places we visit, how we act there, and where things come from. Be aware of clicking suspicious links or downloading suspect software. Always keep your security (virus) signatures, applications and operating system patched and up-to-date.
Time For Security Software
There doesn't yet appear to be a general consensus on which security application you should use to keep your Mac safe (if any). Mac OS X has some security measures built in, such as a firewall and timely security updates, but those are minimal measures at best. There are several third-party options available, including products from Kaspersky, ESET, Panda, Trend Micro and Norton.
No matter what security measures you take, the best ones will always include you being smart about your computing habits. In computing as in the real world, using common sense and good judgement is the best way to stay safe.
Cee Simpson is a Security Systems Analyst with http://ezmobilepc.com/. He has over 20 years experience as an active duty and contract Network Administrator with the DoD.