One of the main selling points of Apple computers—their resistance to the viruses, Trojans and worms that so often afflict PCs—has suffered a hit thanks to a digital epidemic that exploited vulnerabilities in the Mac operating system (OS X).
In April of 2012, the Flashback Trojan infected over 600,000 computers around the world, an estimated 98% of which were found to be running Mac OS X. The Flashback botnet was used by hackers to steal sensitive information like financial account numbers and passwords, and marked a grave day for Apple’s once-flawless security base. Apple’s response was swift, with the development of a Trojan removal tool on the one hand, and, more recently, a change in its online marketing copy on the other.
Before, the Apple page about the Mac OS X read: “It doesn’t get viruses. A Mac isn’t susceptible to the thousands of viruses plaguing Windows-based computers. That’s thanks to built-in defenses in Mac OS X that keep you safe, without any work on your part.” Now it reads: “It’s built to be safe. Built-in defenses in OS X keep you safe from unknowingly downloading malicious software on your Mac.”
Commenters are calling it the end of an era, as Mac computers, once thought to be immune to malicious programs, now join the ranks of PCs in terms of system integrity. No longer can Apple confidently boast that what sets Macs apart from PCs is a fail-proof resistance to malware and viruses. Now, the company must hedge its claims and educate users about the security risks they may encounter online.
The Mac’s market share is a modest 5.11% to the PC’s 92.21% (as of 2011), which means there are a great deal more computers running Windows than there are running OS X; the Windows-using population is much greater than the Mac-using one, meaning a greater proportion of people with shaky computer security.
Historically, web attacks on Windows systems have been a much more frequent occurrence than hacks into the OS X just because there were more of the former and less of the latter. It made for an ample market to exploit, while the smaller pool of Macs just didn’t seem worth the coding and hacking effort.
With this troubling recent development, it would appear that Mac computers are now also fair game for those who would seek to steal or destroy sensitive information. Mac users are cautioned about these new risks and advised to keep their software up-to-date as upgrades are released, exercise caution before visiting unfamiliar websites or clicking on suspicious links and use reliable anti-virus software.