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2008: The year of the Apple hack

Opinion - iPhone & MacBook to attract attackers

Apple also typically lags in patching issues found in those code libraries, such as with the Samba networking protocol used in the company's Mac OS X.

Even when the Samba open-source community has created a fix for a known security issue, it often takes Apple three to four months to introduce a related patch for its products, giving any attackers looking to subvert Mac systems a lengthy window of opportunity to do so, Maynor maintained.

"If someone has a list of these open-source security issues in the projects included in Mac OS, they could use that against OS X users," said Maynor. "Samba is a perfect example, as there is generally a large window there."

A rise in underground malware activity

Maynor said that he observed an increase in Apple-related activity in the underground malware research community last year around several previous QuickTime vulnerabilities.

"It's not that the number of Mac vulnerabilities is rising. If you look at their own security archives, you'll see that there were always a lot that were reported, but no one cared in the past," Maynor said. "One of the problems is that a lot of users buy into the misconception that Mac OS is more secure because of Apple's development process, but that's not really the case. Some people also feel that they are protected by Apple's smaller market share, but with more of these computers out there, more attention is being paid to it."

According to officials with Lumension, a software vendor that specialises in vulnerability scanning and patching, Mac OS has had far more security flaws reported in the last year than Microsoft Windows. Don Leatham, director of solutions and strategy at Lumension, formerly known as PatchLink, said that Mac OS X had nearly five times as many vulnerabilities reported than Windows during 2007. He noted, however, that many of those issues were considered minor, and that the Microsoft Windows security problems were notably more critical.

But Leatham agreed that publicly reported holes in Mac OS products tend to stay unaddressed longer than their Windows counterparts. "It's not always about the sheer number of exploits anyways; it's more about the speed at which real exploits are being created. That's what people will need to be worried about going forward," Leatham said. "If you get to the point where you have professional malware development kits being sold on the underground, as we have today for Windows, that's when there could be real problems for Mac. But we haven't seen any of those just yet."

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