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Apple hopes that if it pretends that malware doesn't exist its customers will believe so too. Apple techs are under strict orders not to help customers who are suffering from malware infe

Employees claim ~6 percent of Macs are now infected by malware, though many Mac owners are convinced their computers are "immune" to such problems.  (Source: Cult of Mac)

Microsoft actually helps protect its customers from malware programs and acknowledges they exist. It even offers its customers free protection.  (Source: iTech News Net)
Jobs and company hope to keep customers ignorant of the truth

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) long had the good fortune (from a certain perspective) of not being very popular with consumers and thus gaining security through obscurity.  With millions of Macs in the wild and Apple sitting pretty in fourth place in PC sales, though, the company is seeing an increasing number of malware attacks.

I. The Customers Want the Truth?  They Can't HANDLE the Truth!

In response to these attacks Apple has reportedly implemented a policy which is equal measures bizarre and baffling -- it's telling technicians to adopt a "don't ask don't tell" policy with regards to customers complaints about malware, feigning ignorance on the topic.

An Apple Store Genius (store technician) leaked internal documents to ArsTechnica.  One memo reads:

Apple Internal Use Only - Issue/Investigation in Progress - Confidential Information - Do Not Disclose Externally


Customers may call AppleCare to report and issue with malware (trojan) software known as Mac Defender or Mac Security, or because they are concerned that their Mac could become infected.  The name may vary as new variants are released onto the internet.  This malware is installed from malicious websites.

Products Affected

Mac OS X 10.6, Mac OS X 10.5, Mac OS X 10.4

A second memo adds:


    • Do not confirm or deny that any such software has been installed.
    • Do not attempt to remove or uninstall any malware software.
    • Do not send escalations or contact Tier 2 for support about removing the software or provide impact data.
    • Do not refer customers to the Apple Retail Store.  The ARS does not provide any additional support for malware.

The disgusted Apple employee is quoted as stating, "Frankly, it's Social Engineering at it's finest.  In some respects, I feel a little bad for the people hit by this, but at the same time, I can't help but be frustrated that people inherently trust everything they're prompted to do on their machines. The beauty of Mac OS X is its security model. That people blindly enter a password is going to be the undoing of it."

(The employee's comments allude to that Apple's OS requires users to verify installations using a feature similar to the UAC found in Windows 7.)

II. How Widespread is the problem?

Andy says that in the past about 0.2 percent of service Macs were suffering from some kind of malware -- "most always DNS trojans."  Now that number soared to around 5.8 percent, mostly thanks to MacDefender -- a trojan that DailyTech previously reported on.

The employee states, "There's been a very real uptick in the number of malware instances we've seen."

"With regard to how the company is dealing with it, the answer is not very well," he adds. "As you know, OS X requires an admin user to authenticate and OK the install for pretty much anything that's not drag and drop. The response has been a case of 'they installed it, so it's not our problem.' Until something that makes use of a zero-day exploit hits, I really doubt that we're going to do anything, technology wise, to address this."

But is the OS X security model really superior to Windows 7?

Famed Mac security expert Charlie Miller, who won multiple years for the fast Mac hack at Pwn2Own, comments, "Mac OS X is no more secure than any other operating system. It has vulnerabilities, and it will let you download and run malware. The difference is that there simply isn't that much malware written for it. The bad guys have focused all their energies at Windows, which makes up the vast majority of the computers out there. However, as market share for Macs continues to inch up, that equation is going to change and bad guys will begin to focus in on Macs, if that hasn't already started to happen. And as I mentioned above, Macs are no more inherently secure than Windows, so when the bad guys decide to go after them with gusto, it'll get ugly fast."

Other hackers have also commented that OS X 10.6 ("Snow Leopard") has inferior security to Windows 7.  To boot, Apple doesn't provide users with free antimalware software like Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) does.

III. How Long Can Apple Keep up the Charade?

In recent months botnet-forming worms and trojans have targeted OS X.  Most of these pieces of malware have been amateurish efforts, though, or works in progress.  Nonetheless it remains a very real possibility that Apple could one day see a serious attack.

The question remains how long Apple can continue to manage to deceive its customers and obfuscate the fact that its platform has malware on it, and that the threat is growing.

But the line still seems to be working on the most gullible of Mac users.  For example in our coverage of the MacDefender infection one pro-Apple commentator and self proclaimed "expert", "TonySwash" wrote:

In the real world actual and successful malware attacks on Macs are virtually unknown, and if there are any at all the number is vanishingly small.


The really embarrassing thing is not that Windows get's (sic) all that malware, that's just the result of piss poor design decisions going back decades, what's really shameful is the way that some Windows fans choose to deal with this reality. They deny it. It's not Microsoft or Windows faults (sic), it's everybody's problem, or if it's not everybody's problem then its (sic) some sort of perverse reflection of Windows strength (sic).

Eventually Apple may have to face the music, though, particularly if customers take legal action against it for feigning ignorance, now that corporate documents have revealed that Apple is well aware of the attacks on its platform.

There's plenty of things you can fault Microsoft and the Windows platform for, but one thing you can say in their favor is that at least when they encounter malware they try to help customers and counter rather than claiming their products are "magic" and have no problems.

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RE: World is ending tomorrow!!!
By Tony Swash on 5/20/2011 2:54:37 PM , Rating: -1
Guys you forced me to abandon my beers and read some scare story shit!

To quote at length form the referenced article :

Still, we tried to do exactly that. Ars spoke with 14 different Mac support specialists—including several Apple Store Geniuses—in order to get a handle on whether things have changed when it comes to dealing with malware. Their experiences are all over the map, but the general consensus does seem to lean towards a low amount of malware problems—until you get to the Geniuses.

Not an epidemic?

Many third-party Mac support specialists told us that they had not seen a noticeable spike in malware issues on the Mac recently.

"The majority of Mac users I support are somewhat technical, but even the ones that aren't have been trained (by me) to be paranoid and come running to me if they're not sure about something," longtime Ars forum member Comp Guru, also known as Sean Murphy, told Ars. "MAC Defender is just like 'Security Center 2011' that plagues the Windows 7 users in my office, and a few have actually installed it. One came very close to paying the $85 to make the 'infections' and 'drive errors' go away. Luckily she came to me first and I removed it with Malwarebytes. On the Mac side I'm glad it's an easy-to-remove application if someone does happen to install it."

"In the last 6 months, only one of my clients reported a possible malware [scenario]. I have consulted with other Apple services and the rate is basically the same: one or two people out of 750-1,000 in six months," a Chile-based Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist named Pablo Toledo told Ars. "Mac users here tend to be alert and informed, and only very basic users fall into the trap."

Two out of a thousand in six months seems like a pretty good track record, but others claim to have never seen a single instance of malware on a Mac.

"It certainly hasn't affected the fashion/casting/design/law offices I support, as nobody has made a peep about it. We have deployed the managed preference setting to turn off 'open safe files after downloading' by default for all computers we come into contact with, though," Allister Banks from a consulting firm called POINT said. "When it comes to average home users, the closest to malware I've ever seen is slight JavaScript tomfoolery when SEO people poison Google Image Search results. Sorry, zero evidence, anecdotal or otherwise."

Northwestern University technical support consultant Adam Turetzky agreed. "I’ve been a departmental user support and server admin at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL for 11 years. During that time I have not once seen a user’s Macintosh infected with a virus or malware more serious than a Word macro virus (and I haven’t seen one of those in a long time either)," Turetzky said. "I currently support 42 users and administrate 50+ Macintoshes. Granted, my users are told not to install software on their workstations without consulting with me first, but they don’t always obey the rules and even still we’ve had no instances of malware."

Tom Bridge, a partner at a firm called Technolutionary, seemed to think that Mac users might be better at avoiding malware because of previous experiences on other platforms. "We have yet to see a single one of the Macs we support be hit by MAC Defender or its like," Bridge told Ars. "We have clients that have been taken by these scams before on PCs, and perhaps they are just more well educated against this particular type of scam, but generally speaking, we're not seeing this here in the DC area."

The best bit is where Ars says it heard just the opposite from Apple store employees.

"We probably get 3 or 4 people with this per day"

Two or three people a day :)

You Windows guys really crack me up, so sad, desperate and funny at the same time. A breathless report that there is some information that there has been some reports of Mac malware somewhere and you can practically hear the spurting sound from your pants. Anything to distract and console you from the unchanging, dispiriting and shabby truth which is that 99.99% of all malware is on Windows. Show some dignity, defend your OS of choice and it's one area of continuing and unchallenged dominance; malware remains almost totally 'Windows only' :)

Just noticed. IBM passed Microsoft in market cap - IBM!

Now back to my beer.

RE: World is ending tomorrow!!!
By themaster08 on 5/20/2011 3:00:25 PM , Rating: 5
Nice sources. Mac support specialists? How about the opinions of real security specialists? You would have known these if you'd read the article, as you would have known that Mac specialists will likely lose their affiliation with Apple for being up-front about this.

Keep drinking your beer, Tony, and drown out the reality.

By snakeInTheGrass on 5/21/2011 5:16:16 PM , Rating: 2
It's entirely possible there will be a real virus or worm one of these days - I don't think any OS has perfect security, and certainly if Apple didn't take security seriously they wouldn't have just brought on a new head for the OS security team - but this isn't it, just the usual sensationalism from a 'journalist'. People can install an app on any OS - Windows, OS X, or Linux. If you're inclined to install random apps that suddenly pop up on screen while you're browsing the web, you're probably a great candidate to be running a malware scanner because apparently you're looking for a way to shoot yourself in the foot. At least this 'news' is in the blog section.

In any case, it doesn't matter because the world is ending right about now.

RE: World is ending tomorrow!!!
By Homerboy on 5/20/2011 3:22:24 PM , Rating: 1
3-4 people a day.
Lets work in some ratios here...
So if Apple has (for easiness sake) 10% of the market share, and MS 90%, that means that if the tables were switched, and Apple had 90% they'd see roughly 25-40 people a day walking in with malware issues right? Simple ratios I know, but I think you could apply it here.

RE: World is ending tomorrow!!!
By nafhan on 5/20/2011 3:54:31 PM , Rating: 3
Look! I can pick and choose quotes from that article, too:
It gets worse as the stores scale up. We spoke to another Apple Store Genius, who we'll refer to as Andy, whose store services a couple thousand Macs per week. "There's been a very real uptick in the number of malware instances we've seen," Andy, said, adding that in the past, 0.2 percent of the Macs brought into Andy's store might have a malware problem—"most always DNS trojans."

That has changed in the last three weeks. Nowadays, something like 5.8 percent of machines Andy's store sees have a malware-related issue, almost entirely made up of MAC Defender or some variant.

"With regard to how the company is dealing with it, the answer is not very well,"
Andy told Ars. "As you know, OS X requires an admin user to authenticate and OK the install for pretty much anything that's not drag and drop. The response has been a case of 'they installed it, so it's not our problem.' Until something that makes use of a zero-day exploit hits, I really doubt that we're going to do anything, technology wise, to address this."
If I used a bunch of ellipses and cut out a few more things, I could probably make it sound even worse. Ars is a great site, but selectively quoting things can be very misleading. The conclusion of the article (as I read it) is that these problems will likely become more commonplace, but (as with most modern OS's) they can largely be avoided with a little common sense.

Also, have a nice vacation, AND GET OFF THE INTERNET :)

RE: World is ending tomorrow!!!
By Tony Swash on 5/20/11, Rating: -1
RE: World is ending tomorrow!!!
By Ghost42 on 5/21/2011 1:34:00 AM , Rating: 2
said one, "You couldn't get me to install Norton on OS X if you slipped me the date rape drug

Funny.. I feel the same way about Norton for Windows.. So, your point would be?

RE: World is ending tomorrow!!!
By Ushio01 on 5/20/2011 8:12:10 PM , Rating: 2
Two or three people a day :)

Hmm 230 odd Apples stores in the US so 690 people with malware problems a day in the US or 4830 a week, that sounds like a problem to me.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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