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Gartner: Beware of Mac OS spyware

The research firm is warning companies using Mac OS to guard against malicious-code attacks and spyware.

Just a week after Symantec caused an uproar in the Mac community by warning that the OS X operating system was quickly becoming a target for hackers and viruses, Gartner has warned businesses reliant on the Mac to guard against "spyware infestations."

Martin Reynolds, vice president of the research firm's Dataquest organization, said last week that although the number of Apple Computer systems used in businesses is relatively small, just one vulnerability exploit could cause trouble.

"The Macintosh installed base is relatively small, with only about 3 percent of systems in use today running the Mac OS," Reynolds wrote in a research note. "The Mac OS is also a harder target...However, it only takes one exploited weakness to cause trouble," he added.

He said a Mac-only worm would be unlikely to spread very quickly, but it might be possible to create a hybrid worm that attacks both the Mac and Microsoft Windows operating systems.

"If an infected Macintosh attempts to spread a worm, it will reach a system resistant to that infection 97 percent of the time. A hybrid worm targeting both the Mac OS and Microsoft Windows could be developed, but such an attack would be difficult to orchestrate," Reynolds said.

He was also concerned that spyware targeting the Mac OS could establish itself before its existence was widely documented.

"Although it is almost nonexistent on the Mac platform today, problem spyware could emerge. Spyware that exploits vulnerabilities can establish itself more deeply in the system, becoming both harder to detect and harder to remove. Don't assume that your Macintosh systems are immune from viruses and other malicious-code attacks," Reynolds said.

Munir Kotadia or ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.