Fortress Mac is -- Whoops -- There it Goes...

The biggest threat to Mac security is user stupidity, and not even Apple can do much about that.


You Can't Detect What You Can't See: Illuminating the Entire Kill Chain

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Mac hardware is fabulous in every sense of the word. The shell that Apple can wrap around motherboards, hard drives and the other components that go into making a modern computer is truly a thing of beauty. Sure, it’s not magic and, like any other computer, it won’t type these words for me any more than my toolbox will spring into life and fix all the little things around the house that await my attention.

But one thing is for sure - home computers no longer have to be ugly, unstylish beige boxes. Now you can have a computer that tells everyone who sees it that you have style and good taste.

But strip away that outer shell and what you end up with isn’t all that different to what’s inside those beige boxes. You have a bunch of parts all hooked up to a motherboard and an operating system bringing the hardware to life. And that’s the weak link. Don’t for one moment be fooled into thinking that an operating system comes to life through a magical process that concludes with a flawless product. The reality is that operating systems are written by programmers who have too much to do and the birthing process is constantly being hurried along by managers at all levels who want the product to go out of the door and onto shelves as quickly as possible.

In reality it’s an ugly process, and while every company wants you to think that the software it is delivering to you is perfect in every way, the reality is that this can never be achieved, especially given the conditions under which it is put together. To err is human, they say (and they’re right). Windows is imperfect, Mac OS is imperfect, and Linux is imperfect. But, more importantly, users are imperfect.

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Last week we saw the first example of a criminal group targeting the Mac OS X platform with a Trojan disguised as a fake codec. While this attack was very basic and the process far from smooth, it’s the kind of attack that has been very effective in netting Windows users in the past, so why not apply the same kind of attack to the Mac platform?

After all, since about 50 per cent of those purchasing new Macs are new to the OS, chances are that many of them were using Windows not all that long ago and gave up because they couldn’t manage the OS well enough – and as a result had set malware loose on it through their own actions. No matter what the OS, if users allow malware to get a foot in the door, their system can and will be compromised. All it takes is the smallest crack for the fortress to become insecure.

Mac users have long claimed that their OS is somehow immune or impervious to the collective intelligence of the hacking and cyber crime communities. Others say the reason for the lack of Mac OS X specific malware is due to the comparatively low number of users. Why go after an OS with a market share down in the low single digits when you can go after Windows users? Assuming that the proportion of ID10T users are about the same for both Windows and Mac, hackers should be able to find ample victims without having to make their code work cross-platform.

Next page: The hackers are coming...

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