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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

Symptoms

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:

Important

    • 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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Concerns still there
By evo slevven on 5/20/2011 3:30:08 PM , Rating: 2
Regardless of how many posts testified that "99.9%" of Macs are safe and that the Mac is still the worlds safest OS, you have to take into account a few points raised by the story. Its not so much about "reading into it" rather, if there is an issue, there is a divide between "avoiding the problem" in comparison to "there is a problem".

For those who buy and sell Macs, the dominant psychology has been Macs are invincible to such things but that isn't the case and making a statistic of "99.9%", while it may or may not be factual (as I can at times pull a statistic out of my ass 78% of the time) there still isn't an acknowledgement of "there are a few malware issues that could arise" but a false sense of confidence: "its so low you never have to worry about it, I mean really 99.9%". See what I mean?

While it isn't so much a lightning rod or smoking gun, take into account kits and builds for ripping info for Mozilla and Google Chrome on Mac have been surfacing on the web and are in a "ready to purchase and release" state and Macdefender is a more recent inductee. So there is a trending toward the "its possible and more than likely to occur eventually" whereas if it were 2007 we could use the "its still a long way ahead" line and it'd be pretty truthful.

Remember when iPads were compromised and how little notice it received except for possible 1 minute news story? Apples, as they increase in share in households, are going to be eventually targeted. I'd rather not have the situation follow the airline scenario where bad things have to happen in large numbers (ie. a zero day) before there is someone who stands up and takes responsibility and does something about it.




RE: Concerns still there
By jecs on 5/20/2011 4:13:03 PM , Rating: 2
It is not that I have some special faith in Apple. But that I believe they are not that naive as those documents or internal leaked policies may imply out of the context they may be intended. I doubt Apple is not doing an important effort about security, but typically Apple is secretive about most of what they are doing behind the scenes. Anyway I have my back ups and I can only hope I will read about any possible exploit early enough and stay well informed.

Lets see how secure Lion will be and if Apple has been superficial or in denial about OSX security.

But even this truths have been around for many years. I use Macs and PCs and used the Macs since the days of the very vulnerable OS9 that depended on Norton or any other antivirus. Besides this I am aware that any day my Mac could be affected and even fried by a malware or malicious virus infection.

And I thinks it is positive, positive to disclose publicly this possibilities as realities every Mac user needs to be aware off. But what can I tell you, I haven't suffered an infection or attack in the last 10 years of OSX use.

My biggest concerns in the present comes from HD failures, because these are the problems I suffered in my Macs, and now I back up my important data in 3 different manners. If I get seriously infected, I expect to loose no more than a day to recover.

Also Apple with the big economic power and the experience it has these days has no excuse to fail big on security.


RE: Concerns still there
By rudy on 5/21/2011 2:17:09 AM , Rating: 3
Don't you ever wonder why Apple is so secretive? It is because they realized from a marketing stand point that being quiet sells alot more. The problem is alot of people think apple is a good company at heart. And those same people tend to think Microsoft is a bad company at heart.

It is kind of like you see a sexy woman and she says nothing. You are free to imagine what ever you want to imagine her personality, interest and capabilites are. So apple keeps quite because people can live the baseless infactuation longer. As soon as she opens her mouth and starts talking whatever you worked her up to be in your mind starts to fall apart.

They have done studies that show covering up a problem such as a security breech is better than being open about it from a sales perspective.

So apple is just running business as usuall. The problem is people think they are better than business as usual but they are not. Everyone who is not blinded by the Apple RDF knows the whole point of this memo is to reduce the amount of talk of apple malware. If that means you knowingly send a Apple user back home ignorant of his compromised system then so be it. But having talked to so so many apple fans if they understood all these tactics I think that it would be like telling someone their preacher is a child molester. Completely against everything you thought the company stood for.


RE: Concerns still there
By themaster08 on 5/21/2011 3:47:00 AM , Rating: 2
I agree wholeheartedly.

Apple's reputation means everything to them. Do people really think that if Apple openly admitted to all of their flaws, they would have such a huge cult following, and so many people willing to spend an exuberant amount of money on their products?

Their entire business model is based on this reputation of luxury, security and superiority. Apple will do anything to keep this reputation, even if that means losing money, because they know that if their reputation is tarnished, there's no going back.

They have painted an entire outlook based upon their contrasting qualities towards Microsoft and Windows - namely their security model.

However Apple have nothing to worry about. Their consumer base consists of Tony Swash's and the average Joe, for who will probably not hear of this story. However, Apple will really need to beef up their security, cause perhaps much more of this is to come now MACDefender has really broke the chain, it might entice others to do the same.


RE: Concerns still there
By dare2savefreedom on 5/22/2011 2:45:42 AM , Rating: 2
I think we will miss apple.

I get laughs when i see the apple store - "genius bar" - do they serve alcohol or kool aid? Why isn't it called the "dumb-as$ line" ?

I kinda like the store though, i mean u know the babe is rich and you know the babe is stupid so it's a concentrated target environment, no?
You don't want the "thinks kind of computer user" as a girlfriend do u ?


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