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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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People with short memories
By superstition on 5/21/2011 2:15:03 PM , Rating: 2
I know it's always fun to bash Mac users, calling them naive sycophants (and some of them are, just as some Windows users are the same). However, for those of us who have been using Macs (and Windows) for a long time, we remember that there were plenty of viruses for Macs.

When I was a university student, I remember that the computer labs were always a source of "fun". The Macs would be infected with viruses. The Windows machines would be infected with viruses. The Windows machines running NT 3.x would print at a glacial pace on the lab's Epson printers and the printout would be really light. The Macs would print quickly on the ImageWriter II printers but much of the time many of the printers would be out of service, or you'd end up with printouts that weren't straight or clear. The Windows machines usually had the "slowdown" syndrome. They'd seem fast at first and then become so slow you'd switch to another machine. The Macs would be fast until they got the bomb screen.

The point here is that both platforms had problems, and some of us, instead of seeing computer platform choice as a religion, are able to not only remember that there were Mac viruses, but that Windows is hardly perfect either. I still can't get used to the terrible folders in Windows 7 which make everything on the desktop jarring/difficult to look at, nor is moving files from one folder to another nearly as convenient as in OS X.

I use a Mac most of the time, because OS X is less vulnerable because of its obscurity. That is changing, yes, but it's still true. Plus, I have found OS X to be more stable and easier to use. I started on Windows and I have spent the majority of my time working on Macs, not because of blind faith, but because I would rather have a speedy printout and risk a bomb than a molasses printout that's too light. As long as Macs have an edge over Windows, I'm going to continue to use them. But, I did deal with my first case of OS X malware as an IT support person last week, so it is coming. Fortunately, as the article says, it was rather amateurish and I was therefore able to delete the files from the Finder.

Both Microsoft and Apple made big mistakes over the years in terms of their choices in OS development. Instead of mocking average computer users, who are not geeks in-the-know, people should put more pressure on these companies to improve their security.

I agree that Apple should not be playing games like this. Similarly, Macbook Pro buyers who got stuck with faulty Nvidia chips had to play games with Apple, too. Apple pretended that it didn't sell the machines to users --- that we have a problem with its supplier, Nvidia. Imagine if a car company were to tell users it won't issue a recall on a defective car and that we should contact/sue one of its parts suppliers instead. So, not only did Apple refuse to recall the faulty parts (every single GPU was faulty), it replaced them on an ad-hoc basis with the same faulty parts! But, this appears to be an industry-wide problem, because only a class-action suit against Nvidia went anywhere, a lawsuit that was nonsense because it targeted a parts supplier instead of the companies that sold people the faulty machines. Apple also, under the terms of the settlement, continued to refuse to do anything other than replace the faulty chips with faulty chips.

So, yes... Apple is really sucking at the moment. Fortunately, at least, OS X is still quite nice.

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

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