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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.

Crossroads
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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RE: duh
By themaster08 on 4/12/2012 3:23:54 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
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.

quote:
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.

quote:
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
quote:
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.
http://www.iantivirus.com/threats/


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
UAC

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


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