Mac users finally waking up to security

Mac users finally waking up to security

Summary: Following a number of attacks against OS X in 2006, Mac users are finally getting the message that they are not immune, according to an IT security manager responsible for over 5,000 Apple systems.Just over a year ago, Mark Borrie from the University of Otago in New Zealand, said that Apple users were their own worst enemy when it came to security, because they considered themselves immune from attack.

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Following a number of attacks against OS X in 2006, Mac users are finally getting the message that they are not immune, according to an IT security manager responsible for over 5,000 Apple systems.

Just over a year ago, Mark Borrie from the University of Otago in New Zealand, said that Apple users were their own worst enemy when it came to security, because they considered themselves immune from attack.

However, since that time Apple has been the subject of much debate as researchers found the first Mac-targeting malware samples and discovered weaknesses in the platforms' AirPort wireless network system.

Borrie claimed that this new focus on OS X has already increased the level of awareness amongst Apple users.

"That was part of the issue I had last year ... with Mac OS you can get hacked and you can get taken over -- that message is slowly getting through to the key people," Borrie told ZDNet Australia in a telephone interview on Monday.

Borrie explained that he does not expect to see OS X plagued by spyware and replicating viruses that infest Windows systems, but he believes there will be more Mac-related malware.

"Keyloggers are all PC based but there is no reason why those keyloggers couldn't be written for Macs -- but I haven't seen any around yet," he said.

Macs used to control Windows bots?
Borrie said that during the past year he has seen Apple-based systems hacked and then used to control bots of Trojan-infected Windows PCs.

He explained that the hacked Mac systems were left vulnerable because users had employed weak passwords or misconfigured their services.

"We are seeing Macintosh systems being targeted for hands-on hacking as opposed to worms ... In one situation, Macs were being used as a bot net channel in IRC -- they were taking over PCs," said Borrie, who warned that this kind of activity is difficult to recognise because it does not generate much network traffic.

"The problems can be there for months. If somebody breaks into a machine all they are doing is a bit of IRC activity. There is not a lot to trigger a warning. Your traffic loads and processing loads do not increase dramatically," added Borrie.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems, Security

Munir Kotadia

About Munir Kotadia

Munir first became involved with online publishing in 1998 when he joined ZDNet UK and later moved into print publishing as Chief Reporter for IT Week, part of ZDNet UK, a weekly trade newspaper targeted at Enterprise IT managers. He later moved back into online publishing as Senior News Reporter for ZDNet UK.

Munir was recognised as Australia's Best Technology Columnist at the 5th Annual Sun Microsystems IT Journalism Awards 2007. In the previous year he was named Best News Journalist at the Consensus IT Writers Awards.

He no longer uses his Commodore 64.

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10 comments
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  • How Dare You

    Insult my Mac platform, it has the best "stuff" around and no way could it have weak anything, this is just a beat up by Mac haters

    Just getting in before all the simpletons do :-)
    anonymous
  • How Dare You

    Ya poor fella !!! there's life beyond the mac ya know !
    anonymous
  • RE: How dare you

    And thus proves the point of the story's author.

    the fact remains that nothing in the world is foolproof, or perfect. and complacency is what leads to the eventual downfall of many things.

    the fact we haven't seen many mac infections until recently is the simple fact that they just didn't have a large enough presence. However, as more and more macs are starting to appear, hackers and security experts are starting to take notice and accually probe through possible weaknesses in the system.

    unfortunatly, many mac users still have the attitude that they will not be the victim of any attacks, a view that is quite frankly, stupid.
    I use both a mac and PC both at my home and work, and I take the same precautions with both systems.

    while it may take a whil for there to be larger scale attack such as what we have seen on windows systems for years, it is inevitable that they will occur, and getting into the habit of having good security now is something that will save poeple a lot of grief in the future.
    anonymous
  • Mac users have never claimed that.

    This is the typical strawman argument we've heard a million times. Mac users, Apple and security professionals have NEVER claimed that Mac is magically "proof" against any sort of attack.
    They just say (and rightly so) that your exposure, and therefore risk, is magnitudes of order less when using Mac systems as opposed to spyware/virus ridden Windows systems due to a superior architecture.

    This whole thing has been argued to death many times before. The proof of the pudding is in the eating so kindly run your erroneous thinking past the millions of Mac users happily surfing the day away without even having anti-virus installed and then compare them with the millions of Windows users who get their computers taken over before they can even download the hotfix for todays list of exploits.

    And no, I'm not a Mac user. I don't need to own a Diablo to recognise it's a very nice car!
    anonymous
  • Here we go again....

    Do you receive commissions from Norton?

    Why bring this up every couple of months...

    We mac users in general have a far better understanding of protecting our systems than the average PC user, so leave it alone for a while, please.
    anonymous
  • But Why.......

    It fun too stir the pot and what it boil.
    anonymous
  • what the????

    That's a joke. Most MAC users I know don't have a clue about how their system works, or how to protect it. One user was sending infected word documents around, infecting her Windows user friends, and thought it wasn't her problem and she wasn't being irresponsible because MAC's "can't get" viruses.

    What will happen to users like this once MAC viruses become more common? I shudder to think, but don't really care, since I DO know how to protect my computer's be they PC or MAC.

    BTW, many windows users browse the web without AV without having massive problems. I do agree though, if you insist on browsing porn, crack, online gambling and illegal music download sites, then expect to get viruses. Duh. If you don't browse these lowest common denominator type sites, you will rarely get viruses from a website. If you do, then you really should get AV protection.

    Oh yeah, and DON'T install ANYTHING with "search" in it's name!
    anonymous
  • Two words: architecture & history

    If you don't believe what either camp (PC vs Mac) are saying, think about the following two points:

    1) The OSX architecture is more secure from the ground up - processes run either as privileged (system daemons etc) and unprivileged (user-space apps). Just like Unix, the only processes running with root privileges are those which absolutely require it. Windows can't do this (properly). Any attempt to suggest otherwise is paying lip service to the myriad "hacks" and reactionary measures employed by Microsoft.

    2) Historically, OSX has seen far fewer compromises. Yes, that's due in part to lower rates of penetration, and thus it's not quite attractive a target as the Wintel platform - but that's precisely the point. No matter how high the market share of OSX gets, it's still never going to be as attractive as Windows. If you compromise Windows, you have unfettered access to the whole system. If you compromise OSX, you're stuck in a sandbox. That fact is deeply rooted in the differences in design between the two OS's.

    Too often the above points (and more beyond the scope of this comment) get lost in the silly mac vs pc debate. Each OS has its merits. It just so happens that OSX wins *this* particular debate.
    anonymous
  • The difference is in the architecture

    Rubbish. The reason Macs haven't seen as many compromises is because the system is harder to compromise, and if compromised, less useful to a potential attacker.

    The Unix architecture lends itself to security, and was built from the ground up to be secure in a multi-user, networked environment.

    Windows, on the other hand, started out as a standalone desktop OS before networking was prevalent, and has had "security" bolted on in various forms ever since. It just doesn't cut it - the Wintel platform is (and always will be) trying to satisfy far too many competing interests.

    The OSX platform is more nimble, more secure, and isn't stuck in a mad pursuit of legacy support like Microsoft. Yeah, macs have their flaws, but security aint one of them.
    anonymous
  • Windows is not as secure as MAC, but can still be effectively secured with 3rd P

    Who is arguing that Windows is better (or even as good) as MAC?

    Yes obviously a UNIX based system will be more secure than Windows, however one of the mistakes often made by MAC experts is to under-estimate the work that has been done by Microsoft recently to make Windows more reliable (Windows 2000), and more secure (XP SP2) with sensible default settings. Such as popup blockers and firewall. Nevertheless no one really questions that MAC is inherrantly more secure.

    But the argument that MAC will become more insecure as it increases marketshare is valid, and while it will likely always be better than Windows in the area of security, it is by no means an unhackable OS. No such thing exists.

    Re: windows security, disabling Active X on Internet Explorer (and putting oft visited safe sites into "safe sites" list), using a hardware firewall and good Anti-Virus makes Windows very secure. Infact even disabling Active X on it's own can almost eliminate 90% of internet browsing threats!! Sure if something gets on there it's history but that brings us back to the argument of phishing and social engineering attacks, which both OS's are vulnurable to given a user who doesn't recognise social engineering attacks.

    Okay, MAC doesn't operate in administrator mode, good point, but Windows can also run effectively in user mode (for end user's). This is not a security issue but a default setting issue, so doesn't really reflect on the security of windows but on the questionable policy of MS to not offer default user mode.

    Also, while I'm not a mac expert, I have often found while working on MAC the need to login as admin to install even basic things as print drivers (and even requires restart sometimes) so I find it hard to believe that MAC user mode is that much more advanced than the Windows User mode.

    I also find poorly organised MAC machines (shortage of free hard drive space, poorly built apps, conflicting apps, incorrectly installed or configured programs etc) can become crash monkeys just like a windows machine.

    Most MAC users seem to think when their systems crash their is a logical explanation, but that when windows machines crash it's a random unpreventable incident. This is grossly untrue. None of my own windows machines, nor any that I maintain, crash frequently (if ever).

    Just because many Windows Techs (I hate to say it) have no freakin' idea on how to properly maintain and configure windows systems is not the fault of Microsoft nor the end user. I meet many people who complain what a crash monkey their windows systems are. Without fail, every single one of those people who have given me their computer/s to look at or maintain end up with a crash and virus free windows system. On the maintenence front, I often do myself out of work, because after I set up their machines, I rarely hear from them, and when I do it's for enhancements, not repairs due to virus attacks.
    anonymous