I can’t count the number of times that my Mac-owning friends have told me with absolute smug certainty that the Mac is immune — absolutely immune! — to viruses and similar threats. It’s time, they would say, that I give up Windows and get a computer that has such absolute rock-solid security that it can’t be attacked.
Well, it turns out they’re dead wrong.
Symantec has just released a report that found “the Mac OS is increasingly becoming a target for…malicious activity.”
The report also notes that this is not a new phenomenon. “Contrary to popular belief,” it says, “the Macintosh operating system has not always been a safe haven from malicious code.”
The truth is, one major reason that Mac hasn’t been subject to widescale attacks is that there are relatively so few of the computers around. Estimates are that 90% of the world’s PCs run Windows, and about 5% run the Mac OS. Malware writers want to do the most possible damage, and so it makes sense to go after Windows rather than the Mac.
Gartner Inc. analyst Martin Reynolds put it succinctly when he told the Reuters news service, “The truth of the matter is that Mac is only a couple percentage points of [computer] shipments, so it’s not an interesting target.”
The Symantec report said that the Mac will become increasingly subject to attack because it will gain market share thanks to its new Mac mini, and many new Mac mini users will be less computer-savvy, and less security-aware, than existing Mac owners.
“The market penetration of Macintosh platforms will be accelerated by the much lower-priced Mac mini, which may be purchased by less security-savvy users,” the report said. “As a result, the number of vulnerabilities can be expected to increase, as will malicious activity that targets them.”
The number of Mac attacks is still minimal compared to PC attacks, and will likely remain that way forever. So Windows users will remain malware writers’ main targets. Knowing the Mac is under attack is cold comfort when your PC gets put out of commission by a nasty bit of spyware.
Still, misery loves company. So to my Mac-owning friends: Welcome to my world. And Mac lovers may also want to suggest a new marketing slogan to Steve Jobs: Finally, Viruses for the Rest of Us!
What do you think about Mac security and the Symantec report? Let me know.