Apple Mac users beware – charting the unknown waters of malware

As a PC user who converted for a short time to Mac and came back to PC, I’m used to hearing the comments from Apple enthusiasts about the superior security and lack of virus threats on the Mac OS system.  I took some heat for my decision to return to a PC from my Mac friends.  “Why would you want to go back to a PC when Macs don’t even need virus protection?”  Well my friends, those days are over.

It’s a fact that Apple enjoyed a no-virus reputation for years.  But a host of new attacks have threatened the Mac community head on.  In the past four months, more than 70 variants of Mac malware have been detected.  Most recently, the Flashback Trojan, considered to be the largest Mac malware threat to date, infected more than 600,000 Macs.  Exploiting a security flaw in Java, Flashback doesn’t need the user to interact or download anything to install itself on the system.

Traditionally PCs faced the brunt of attacks and viruses – more users means more money to be made from malware.  Most PC users are aware of the constant threats, take necessary precautions and arm their computers accordingly.  Mac users on the other hand are accustomed to just the opposite, most having no virus software.  As the platform’s user base continues to grow, so does the interest of malicious programmers and hackers.  The new wave of threats has left many Mac users inexperienced and unprepared.

It doesn’t help matters that Apple is often criticized for being slow to respond with fixes.  Sometimes vulnerabilities go unpatched for months, leaving users open to harm. The Flashback attacks started in February, but Apple didn’t patch the problem until April 3.

These days Apple seems to be taking a stronger security stand, realizing potential vulnerability and inviting computer security firm, Kaspersky, to help improve potential weaknesses in the Mac OS.  Kaspersky’s chief technology officer Nikolai Grebennikov described the Mac OS platform as “really vulnerable”.  Kaspersky has just begun analysis of vulnerabilities and which malware threats could penetrate the OS.  “Our first investigations show Apple doesn’t pay enough attention to security,” he said.

The bottom line is we’re all responsible at some level for the security of our possessions, including our data and our systems.  So what can you do to protect your personal Mac devices from attacks?  Kaspersky has compiled a list of 10 Simple Tips for Boosting the Security Of Your Mac, and Apple itself is introducing the security platform ‘Gatekeeper’ on their new Mountain Lion OS X software update this summer.

If you’re a network administrator of a Mac-based environment, be aware that you now have to protect your users from harmful malware. There are hackers out there looking to infiltrate your once worry-free world and there is no such thing as ‘malware-proof’. Protecting your network with strong authentication is a good start.  Arming users with a smart card or token (something you have), combined with a username and password (something you know), adds that extra barrier of protection that just might allow you to sleep better at night.

So what’s next?  iphones and iPads? Yep, that’s what they’re saying.  And even us PC users have an iPhone and an iPad.  So computer users unite! We’re all in the same boat when it comes to battening down the hatches.

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