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  (Source: Mashuga Mom)
Flashback botnet is no fun for the infected

Apple has finally owned up to the fact that many of its users' machines have been afflicted by crippling malware.  And it promises that it's working on a fix.  But experts wonder if the company is simply acting in a reactionary fashion or is ready to finally get serious about protecting its users.

I. Trojans are Increasingly a Problem for Mac Users 

In the 1990s, hackers enjoyed a virtual wild west of unpatched exploitable software.  But as the new decade rolled around companies like Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) stepped up their security.  As a result it's become harder for malware to install on Windows computers without some sort of user action.  Hackers have circumvented this by creating programs that trick the user into approving the installation via exploiting trust (hijacked sites, systems) or user ignorance (clicking spam email links).  The approach has become tremendously successful and today Trojan-type malware are responsible for a large percentage of the Windows botnets.

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) long avoided such woes, thanks to its small market share and specialized OS code, which precluded stock PC malware from running on a Mac.  But the company's base security model is in theory no more secure, and -- perhaps driven by rising market share -- of late the company has grappled with serious trojan issues.

Trojan horse
Macs are increasingly the target of Trojans.  Malware writers love Apple's
sluggish pace of patching. [Image Source: Venitism]

The latest fire facing the Mac community is "Flashback", also knows as "Flashfake".  This Trojan has evolved over multiple variants to its current form, which masquerades as an install Java applet on hijacked websites.  Customers who approve it unwittingly run a piece of code that exploits a flaw in Oracle Corp.'s (ORCL) Java platform in order to remove OS X's limited anti-malware capabilities and install back-door control programs.

The affected machines are turned into bots, which the attackers can use to spew spam or commit other foul acts.  Kaspersky Labs' Igor Soumenkov told Reuters in an interview that at its peak, Flashback had infected 600,000 machines, including roughly 300,000 in the U.S.  Approximately 98 percent of those machines were Macs.

II. Is Apple to Blame?

Apple has been under heavy fire from the security community.  First, it was the company's lackadaisical approach to patching that gave Flashback the opportunity to take hold.  

The majority of infections occurred after Oracle had already patched the Java vulnerability.  The code would thus have failed under most Windows machines.  However, Apple insists on redistributing all third-party updates via its own repackaging scheme.  And under this system it often delivers updates at a sluggish rate, often months behind their release to the more open, more used Windows platform.  As a result it's often far behind on security patches of third-party platforms -- something malicious hackers are increasingly realizes means open season on Macs.

Michelle Rodriguez on Mac at Starbucks
Over 600,000 Mac users were infected, thanks to Apple's sluggish patching.
[Image Source: Macenstein]

Apple is quick to respond by attacking third-party platforms like Adobe Systems Inc.'s (ADBE) Flash, which it no longer installs on Macs, in part for being too "insecure".  

At the same time Apple practices a policy of blatant hostility towards security professionals who are trying to help it.

But a promising sign is that Apple, after delivering patches to close the Java flaws exploited by Flashback, has released a Knowledge Base post warning users that Macs are indeed afflicted by this piece of malware.

This is one of the first times the company has officially acknowledged malware issues.  A previous Trojan -- MacDefender --was estimated to have infected as many as one in twenty Macs at its peak.  While Apple quietly battled it with patches and tools, the company instructed technicians in a leaked memo to lie to customers and not inform them of infections.

III. OS X is at a Crossroads in Terms of Security

The new issues put the company's image in an awkward position, given that Apple has long promoted OS X as a platform that is largely immune to the kinds of malware that have long afflicted Windows machines.  Of course some OS X users are savvy enough to realize the reality -- no platform, certainly no consumer platform, is ever fully secure.  However, many less tech-savvy Mac users do truly believe that their machines are immune to malware.  The disillusionment when they learn the truth may be a blow to Apple.

The company is preparing a tool that will detect and remove various known variants of Flashback.  In the meantime its patching seems to be working -- infections have dropped to 270,000 machines, according to Symantec Corp. (SYMC).

While it's clear that Flashback will be beaten back by the Cupertino company, the compelling question is whether Apple's unusual public admission to having malware is a prelude to adopting a more proactive approach: patching faster, or possibly even allowing third party patches.  For now, customers can only judge the company's security stance by its track record -- a track record that speaks to a generally negligent sluggish pace of prevention interspersed with reactionary spurts of action.

Apple is at a crossroads as to whether to decide to become more responsible about security, or allow its customers to be abused. [Image Source: Letters to Jen]

Today hackers appear to be finding Macs the easiest platform to hack.  Apple computers were hacked the quickest at recent "hack-to-own" style competitions.

With Microsoft adopting a more proactive approach and with hackers increasingly attracted to Apple's affluent customer base, if Apple sticks to its reactionary approach, customers may soon find their Macs going from being the most secure platform, to being the least secure.  OS X is at a critical crossroads -- the next move is Apple's to make.

Sources: Apple, Reuters

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By Motoman on 4/12/2012 12:23:43 PM , Rating: 5
However, many less tech-savvy Mac users do truly believe that their machines are immune to malware.

Which is essentially all Mac users. And to be fair, essentially all computer users across the board. But Apple has definitely cultivated their little religion around the *magic* of their platform, so while there probably isn't any PC user who thinks their PC is immune, Apple users are fully drenched in this kool-aid. Blame Apple for their propaganda and blame the users for being that stupid at the same time.

The disillusionment when they learn the truth may be a blow to Apple.

No it won't. Seriously...looking back at trainwreck that has been the reality of Apple, vs. the propaganda of Apple, over the past <really long time>, when has any problem...whether minor or massive...had any effect on the propensity of the Apple faithful to dutifully tithe to their church?

It'll make no difference. And even if tomorrow Apple put out a press release admitting they've been full of sh1t for the past 15 years, for the next 30 years you'd still have the Macolytes spewing about how their machines are immune to malware anyway.

They're like antivaxxers...even when the foundation of their belief is shown to have been an utter fraud, they just ignore that reality and continue on with their own little fantasy world. You're not going to reach them. No point in trying.

RE: duh
By Tony Swash on 4/12/12, Rating: -1
RE: duh
By dark matter on 4/12/2012 1:16:51 PM , Rating: 5
If motoman wanted his case proven. He couldn't have asked for better evidence than you.

RE: duh
By integr8d on 4/12/2012 2:06:41 PM , Rating: 5
If you want the whitewashed version that reads like any good WWII novel, head over to

Apple has 'announced it intentions' and is 'marshaling legal tools' in an effort to 'exorcise' malware. And no, kids. I'm not making this up.

The best part is how the article glosses over the fact that the patch was released on other platforms in Feb, while Apple was only able to 'marshal' it last week (probably due to the Third Reich or Taliban or other evil force).

It really is a cultural issue with Apple. It's like a willful ignorance or sheer snobbery that prevents them from seeing just a little further down the road. And that's what's going to make the head-on crash all the more damaging.

I think part of it is that after all these years of ragging on Windows, Apple finally is becoming Windows. I wonder what the next snob platform will be. Maybe someone will rez BeOS or commercialize Haiku and give it that sheen.

RE: duh
By Tony Swash on 4/12/12, Rating: -1
RE: duh
By zero2dash on 4/12/2012 4:54:26 PM , Rating: 4
So you couldn't dredge up any evidence to supports motorman's absurd statement either. But then why bother with troubling facts when it interferes with your prejudices?

Works for you when you do it, doesn't it Tony?
Another day, another article showing a chink in Apple's armor, and WHO ELSE but good 'ol Tony Swash is here throwing up useless information trying to defend it!

Eventually you'll realize that not everything with a fruit logo is as bulletproof and perfect as you think. Until then, stay free Tony.

RE: duh
By retrospooty on 4/12/2012 5:26:05 PM , Rating: 3
"Another day, another article showing a chink in Apple's armor, and WHO ELSE but good 'ol Tony Swash is here throwing up useless information trying to defend it!"

My only question is why? Why would anyone in their right mind spend so much time nad effort on a tech website defending a company. It makes zero sense to me. I guess he has nothing better to do and no hobbies to occupy his time so its just take to his keyboard and spank it to the full life size cut-out of Steve Jobs that stands above his bed in mom's basement.

RE: duh
By kittypuncher on 4/13/2012 5:45:13 AM , Rating: 1
Even simpler explanation - A sociopath who loves to wind people up. The negative attention is p*&n to him (as well as that Jobs cut-out)

RE: duh
By Tony Swash on 4/13/12, Rating: -1
RE: duh
By retrospooty on 4/13/2012 1:33:58 PM , Rating: 2
I post here on a wide variety of subjects. Most of my "attacks" on Apple are for their nasty behavior, and douchey attitude. I do like their products and see the appeal, and more importantly the benefit.

You on the other hand defend Apple, every product they make and every crummy step they make as if your life depends on it. Why?

RE: duh
By The Raven on 4/13/2012 6:17:07 PM , Rating: 2
He owns a lot of Apple stock and therefore lives off the back of the stupid. He doesn't have to work so he trolls around here all day. Makes perfect sense to me ;-P

RE: duh
By Tony Swash on 4/13/12, Rating: -1
RE: duh
By eskimospy on 4/15/2012 10:59:08 PM , Rating: 2
Even if that were the case, why would someone else's bad behavior excuse your own?

It is simply amazing to me how much time you spend defending a tech company. It's bizarre.

RE: duh
By Cheesew1z69 on 4/12/2012 6:11:54 PM , Rating: 1
The double standards with him is ridiculous.

RE: duh
By ritualm on 4/12/12, Rating: -1
RE: duh
By themaster08 on 4/12/2012 3:23:54 PM , Rating: 4
It turns out malware that exploits a third party piece of software that is not part of MacOSX and does not come bundled with Mac got compromised
How do you think many Windows users are exploited? In the exact same way, you idiot. 3rd party utilities such as Flash and Java are used to exploit users and inject malware. Furthermore, do you think the masses care about where the exploit came from? They don't seem to care when it comes to Windows.

Personally I am looking forward to Apple's quarterly report on the 24th, should be a good one, plus a nice big dividend sometime in July or so. Nice
Always the one to try and draw attention from the issue at hand. Nice to know you're at the mercy of a company that has only just had the balls to admit there is a problem. If there were less denial, perhaps a fix would have already been in place.

Macs will continue to grow markets share
Good luck with fending off the increase of malware as a result.

RE: duh
By StevoLincolnite on 4/12/2012 4:19:27 PM , Rating: 2
Good luck with fending off the increase of malware as a result.

To be fair, the Mac already has 100+ infections in the wild, at least with windows you have protection agaonst things.

RE: duh
By ritualm on 4/12/12, Rating: 0
RE: duh
By cscpianoman on 4/12/2012 7:41:32 PM , Rating: 2
Um, actually Windows does do a few things to protect you as you are installing antivirus software and what not.

Windows Firewall
Windows Defender

Windows Live Essentials includes a free Family Safety program and if you feel so inclined you can install Microsoft Security Essentials.

There is also the Malicious Software Removal Tool that is actually pretty robust and is also already included.

RE: duh
By ritualm on 4/12/12, Rating: 0
RE: duh
By Akrovah on 4/13/2012 11:22:57 AM , Rating: 2
You choosing to turn off all the built in security features != "Windows does not come protected"

Security is a hassle, just try getting on a plane. But don't go saying that security is not provided when you are the one turning down the offer.

RE: duh
By ritualm on 4/13/2012 5:18:09 PM , Rating: 1
Airport security is a joke. You can slip weapons onto a plane while passing TSA's "security" checkpoints in flying colors. Remember the last DHS scare? "Terrorists might be carrying bombs in their asses!" = TSA screeners need to probe your butt to ensure you're not going to blow things up.

RE: duh
By DFranch on 4/13/2012 9:06:17 AM , Rating: 2
If Windows came preloaded with Anti-virus, then the anti-trust lawsuit would start. I'm pretty sure Windows is still considered a monopoly.

RE: duh
By Fritzr on 4/18/2012 2:51:12 AM , Rating: 2
MSE (Microsoft Security Essentials) is the Microsoft AntiVirus. It is a free install today, look for it as a preloaded feature in the future.

Apple on the other hand while officially denying the need for anti-virus, recommends installation of an anti-virus program and sells several of them at Apple stores. It is just the Apple marketing department that tries to say that Apple is so secure that the anti-virus recommended by Apple is unnecessary.

Gotta love the reality distortion field.
*OSX does not get malwaure
* Buy one of these recommended software packages to protect your Mac from malware

Only Apple can put both these messages in their marketing and not have a customer ask why Apple disagrees with Apple on this important subject :P

RE: duh
By DrChemist on 4/12/12, Rating: 0
RE: duh
By damianrobertjones on 4/12/12, Rating: 0
RE: duh
By ATrigo on 4/12/2012 5:31:15 PM , Rating: 2
You have lies, damn lies, and statistics.... all information can be fabricated.. I don't see these "user satisfaction" articles as little more than plain marketing gimicks. I don't think they are proof of nothing, other than marketing works, perhaps?

The thing to keep in mind here is this: Apple has admitted that its platform isn't 100% infection proof.. (for whatever means, via a 3rd party add in or not). The message they have been screaming to the world had been pretty clear; and had it been true then, no matter how, the Mac platform should have stopped the infection in its tracks..

So, it is an interesting position in which the company has to say to the world either two things.. "Gee, we were wrong and proven corrected, sorry" or "Guess what, we tricked you in believing this, it was a freaking lie, but now we are all powerful and do as you user see fit, we don't care".. What is it going to be? And how will people take it?? if Motoman is right, the nothing will change the world is going to continue as it is right now and Apple can say screw you.. if his not we will see.. perhaps people are willing to cut some slack to Apple.. (or a lot)

RE: duh
By Tony Swash on 4/12/12, Rating: -1
RE: duh
By ritualm on 4/12/2012 7:16:57 PM , Rating: 2
Nearly one in three US households now own a Mac? Yep, exactly what ATrigo stated, that all information can be fabricated.

Heads up, fruit-tard. There are an order or two of magnitude more Windows users than there are Mac users, and no, iOS devices don't count. And as TFA refers to Macs and Apple's turtle approach to computer security, you're barking up the wrong tree entirely.

Keep feeding yourself more of that magical asbestos dust, kid.

RE: duh
By The Raven on 4/13/2012 7:01:48 PM , Rating: 2
He didn't say that they own a Mac. He said that they own an Apple product of some sort.

But at any rate the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people ACTUALLY buy a Windowz based PC and not a PC running OSX. So if the Macs are so wonderful why don't you see people ACTUALLY buying them?

You will find that the viewing satisfaction of people who watch Rocky Horror is through the roof. But I don't see it passing up Star Wars at the box office. What do they call that?...oh a CULT film. If it appeals to a specific crowd (whether that crowd is stupid or not) those things will always have great ratings.

RE: duh
By Pirks on 4/12/2012 8:26:44 PM , Rating: 2
Ya good ol' Tony, posting about excellent customer reviews of Apple stuff and completely ignoring stellar reviews on Amazon from all the people who bought Lumia 900 or HTC Titan.

Times never change, Tony == double standards. As double as ever.

RE: duh
By croc on 4/12/2012 6:48:20 PM , Rating: 2
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Mark twain, quoting Benjamin Disraeli.

Replace 'statistics' with your 'facts', and that about sums it up.

You see, you could use REAL facts, like Solandri does, and not be hated so much. But you prefer to be despised. So, I suggest that it is you, not Motoman that needs to see some kind of professional about some sort of trauma that someone experienced as a small child... Perhaps your mother wouldn't breast feed you?

You see, the 'facts' are: Apple DOES have a better security model than windows, natively, provided that a knowledgable 'nix user is behind the wheel. Which, as Motoman pointed out is not normally the case.

Apple has in the past outright lied about various malware 'deficiencies'. Or, any deficiencies in any of its products, actually... And that has been a top-down approach, mind you, made infamous by 'You are holding it wrong'.

Apple is notoriously slow patching issues. Too many examples to list, really.

Of late, it seems that Apple has finally realized that it is really an eight hundred pound gorilla, and everyone else is not, so now it is Apple's turn to kick sand in everyone's face that it doesn't like.

So, Tony, please. Go find a professional, get your issues sorted. I'd suggest, in my professional capacity, that you seek a nice, bosomy lass (if you are inclined that way, that is) and suck away to your heart's content. Then perhaps we'll have some peace and quiet around here.

RE: duh
By Commodus on 4/12/12, Rating: -1
RE: duh
By vignyan on 4/12/2012 3:54:32 PM , Rating: 2
Well the ratings say it all... He got a 5 and you got a 1 (for now).

And a classic case of deflection. The issue at hand is "Apple's false propaganda" and as coined "Macolytes". So, dont bring in windows to defend Mac.

And yes, bloatware in Dell and HP windows laptops allows them to be priced a bit lower, so an average Joe can afford it - and there is no strings attached with these trial software - You can easily uninstall them as well.

RE: duh
By The Raven on 4/13/2012 7:21:52 PM , Rating: 2
Apple itself says it: about 50 percent of buyers at its own stores are getting their first Mac.
Yeah nice unbiased source there. At least Tony tries to show facts that may matter. And wouldn't that equate to a much larger market share? So many of those people must be going back to MS.

And of those alleged 50% how many of them will be savvy enough to use a Mac even. I mean just because you try something else doesn't mean that it will work either.

Oh at $500 I'm sure it is not poorly made. It is just a $500 laptop. No it may not be an XPS or what have you but it is appropriately priced it would seem since the vast majority of people are buying those and not $1000 MacBooks.

And bloatware? What do you call iTunes, iPhoto, Quicktime or Safari? Because iWon't use them. You have a point but let's not pretend that the door doesn't swing both ways here.
The cliché of the Mac "faithful" dominating the platform hasn't held true for years, if ever.
Tony has some links for you shoing how loyal they are bro. Check it.
Macs are definitely not immune to security woes. But you're trying to exaggerate one incident when you know this is what Windows has dealt with every single day for two decades.
Since when is it one incident? This has been happening continuously. And time and time again we see Apple's sluggish response. MS has (and I underlined it for you) dealt with security continuously while Apple has swept such issues under the rug. That is the point of the criticism. It is not a "who had more attacks" contest.

RE: duh
By masamasa on 4/12/2012 4:36:20 PM , Rating: 2
It was only a matter of time before Mac got hit and there is more coming. The bigger you are the harder you fall.

RE: duh
By ritualm on 4/12/2012 6:00:25 PM , Rating: 2
Huh? It's already happening, those PWN2OWN contests proved how ridiculously easy it is to gain full control of Macs in less time than having sex with the waitress.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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