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  (Source: Science Photo)
Apple refuses to let Oracle patch Java directly, cybercriminals celebrate 2 months of easy hunting

If you have a Mac and you browse the internet, there's a chance your "secure" Apple, Inc. (AAPL) computer may have been compromised, allowing hackers to use your computer as part of a botnet to spread spam and launch distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks.

I. Half a Million Macs Infected

A report by security firm Dr Web claims to have discovered at least 600,000 Macs to be infected by "Flashback" the latest in a growing deluge of Mac malware [1][2][3][4] [5].  

The new malware first takes root by masqerading as a Flash player update, which many users haplessly approve.  It then does various devious and dastardly deeds, depending on the variant.  

Early versions disabled XProtect, Apple's pseudo-secret antivirus program, which it quietly slipped in version 10.6.7.  The crippling of the protector program was a multi-step sophisticated process where the trojan first decrypted a file attached to the program, then decrypted the path of the updater binary, and finally stopped the updater daemon and overrwrote key files.

The latest version v39, has even more dangerous capabilities:

Systems get infected with BackDoor.Flashback.39 after a user is redirected to a bogus site from a compromised resource or via a traffic distribution system. JavaScript code is used to load a Java-applet containing an exploit. Doctor Web's virus analysts discovered a large number of web-sites containing the code.

The exploit then reportedly downloads other malicious programs to control the computer, conscripting it into the authors' botnet.  Typically every program installed on the Mac requires user permission to install, a process similar to the user account control (UAC) warnings in Windows.  However, after the Java exploit, users no longer receive such warnings about the malware installations.

II. Apple Moves Sluggishly to Fix Gaping Holes

In recent months Flashback has been exploiting three specific known Java vulnerabilties.  Oracle Corp. (ORCL) had fixed these vulnerabilities way back on Feb. 14, but Mac users did not have access to the free protection as Apple does not allow Oracle to directly update its machines.

Instead Mac users had to wait until 4/4/2012 -- this Wednesday -- to receive a patch for the last of the flaws.  A second update was released yesterday, according to security firm Intego.  Given that there are commonly other flaws that are patched by Oracle, but not on Macs, these latest patches are likely only to slow -- not stop -- the malware.

In addition, Apple does not automatically install such critical updates on users machines.  Rather it prompts them that the update is available in OS X, then allows them to install the update at their own convenience.  As a result, many users may never patch the flaws or go weeks unprotected.  This contrasts with Microsoft who forces users to endure the occasional nightly reboot in the name of security.

Apple has long practiced a negligent approach when it comes to security.  Where Microsoft rewards developers who point out potential security flaws, Apple bans them.

III. Macs -- Not That Safe Anymore

Apple users, like Linux users, long trumpeted their platform's "superior security".  Even Apple joined in this fun, attacking veteran operating system maker Microsoft Corp. (MSFT).  While there was some truth in these claims, it was largely due to Apple's miniscule market share -- malicious hacking tends to be profit-motivated and spending a whole lot of work to infect a small portion of a few million machines seemed a lot less attractive than being able to infect hundreds of millions of machines with Windows-geared exploits.

But Apple has risen in market share, shipping 16.8m Macs in its fiscal 2011 (which ended in calendar Q3 2011).  Now it's learning the pain Microsoft felt for years.

Blind Faith Cafe
Many Apple users blindly believe their favorite company will protect them sufficiently.  In reality Apple does less than Microsoft to protect its users. [Image Source: Eater]

Apple's reaction has been slow at best.  Apple still insists on redistributing third parties security updates, but does so at a leisurely pace, endangering its users.  At the same time, the company was revealed to have been instructing its technicians to lie to users and not tell them if their systems are infected.

Timur Tsoriev, an analyst at Kaspersky Lab tells BBCNews, "People used to say that Apple computers, unlike Windows PCs, can't ever be infected - but it's a myth."

Unfortunately many Mac users don't realize that, faithfully believing that Apple is delivering them superior protection.  Sadly their faith is misplaced.

Sources: Dr Web, BBCNews

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RE: Hmm interesting ...
By RedemptionAD on 4/6/2012 11:27:44 AM , Rating: 2
Apple is 25% of the market in the USA and around 5% around the world. The end game with all malware is taking personal info and reselling it for monetary gain. Virus people will always target the largest opportunity. Biggest issue I can see with apple is that most apple users with use an ipod and iphone and all centrally utilizing itunes. Meaning if the main computer is compromised the whole ecosystem is. Windows at least decentralizes as in other makers can make things utilize their own software, and problems are more localized rather than bringing the whole consumers world to the ground.
It's like 3 burgalers trying to break into your house vs a battallion of special forces trying to break in. If apple ever got to the windows market share as it stands security wise it would be an absolute massacre.

RE: Hmm interesting ...
By dgingerich on 4/6/2012 11:53:45 AM , Rating: 3
Not entirely true. Thieves, and therefore hackers after personal info, are generally lazy. They'll do what takes the least effort with the greatest reward. For a long time, that meant Windows users. These days, the stupider and lazier users are migrating to Apple, making Macs and iThings the easier and more rewarding target. However, this requires learning new skills to hack OSX, so the changeover is a bit slower for hackers than it is for general users.

It's funny, Mac users would make such easy targets. Apple is slow with updates, has fewer AV programs that work with their system, cooperates less with security companies, and has a more easily hacked platform. It's kind of funny that lazy hackers have taken such a long time to switch over. They're just too lazy to learn the new skills to exploit such easy targets. lazy vs lazy gets some interesting results.

RE: Hmm interesting ...
By Motoman on 4/6/2012 1:38:35 PM , Rating: 2
No it isn't...not from an installed base standpoint. Apple is ~5% of all personal computers worldwide...period.

Take a look around and you'll quickly see that not every 4th computer is a Mac. It's more like every 20th.

Recent upticks in sales aren't changing the basic population % of Macs vs. actual computers.

RE: Hmm interesting ...
By Gio6518 on 4/6/2012 5:28:03 PM , Rating: 2
No it isn't...not from an installed base standpoint. Apple is ~5% of all personal computers worldwide...period.

yes it does from Apple's standpoint, they're counting iPad's as personal computers to bump their numbers up

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