McAfee bites into Apple security

Launches antivirus for Mac, saying Apple's operating system is "just as vulnerable" to targeted attacks as its competitors.

Tom Espiner Special to CNET News
3 min read
McAfee has launched a Mac security product, saying that Apple Computer's OS X is "just as vulnerable" as other operating systems are to targeted attacks.

The antivirus vendor introduced McAfee VirusScan for Mactel on Friday. To back up its statement, McAfee cited the release in March of a patch that fixed 20 vulnerabilities in OS X. A proof-of-concept worm that targeted the OS X platform was also discovered earlier this year.

Many flaws have been discovered in Microsoft products over the same period.

McAfee admitted that Mac users were at "no significant risk" at the moment. But the security vendor also said that if the OS X user base expands, thanks to the popularity of iPod media player and its new range of Intel-powered Macs, then Apple's software will become a more tempting target for organized criminals.

"Historically, Microsoft has been targeted because it has had dominant market share. As there are more Apple users (in the future), more threats will appear," Sal Viveros, a security expert at McAfee, told ZDNet UK.

"At this point, there is very little research (into OS X vulnerabilities) and very few people trying to exploit the OS. You have a lot more people trying to find vulnerabilities in Windows at the moment, but we believe that as more people put the time into finding vulnerabilities in Apple OSes, they will become just as vulnerable as any other OS," Viveros added.

Some Apple users have reacted angrily in the past to suggestions that the Mac platform is becoming less secure, pointing out that Microsoft regularly releases critical patches.

But Secunia said that it also believes that hackers are likely to focus more resources on finding vulnerabilities in Mac OS X.

"Windows still has a much larger user base than Mac, and is therefore much more interesting to find vulnerabilities in," a representative for the security monitoring company said. "However, the interest in finding vulnerabilities will increase if the popularity of Mac systems grows. We have seen the same increase in discovered vulnerabilities in the Mozilla and Firefox browsers as they increased in popularity."

Secunia added that Mac operating systems are far less at risk than Windows systems are when it comes to blanket attacks, but said they were just as vulnerable to targeted attacks.

"For large-scale attacks, the risk seems smaller than other operating systems, considering the user-base size. However, it is just as prone to small and direct attacks as other OSes," the company's representative said.

Mac OS X has so far proven to carry far fewer security problems for users than its more popular rival. Apple has argued that this is partly due to its code base being inherently more secure than that of Microsoft's Windows. BSD, the Unix variant at the heart of OS X, was designed from the outset to be a networked, multiuser system with levels of security, while Windows comes from a tradition of single-user, non-networked systems.

In addition, some experts have argued that because OpenBSD is open source, it has been scrutinized by more people than Windows.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.