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Apple to be target of cyber-criminals in 2011

Mac fans have enjoyed a false sense of security

McAfee has compiled the wisdom and insight of its security researchers and produced the 2011 Threat Predictions Report. The report contains a variety of forecasts, prophecies, and educated guesses on what to expect for computer and information security next year, but one of the most notable is that Apple has achieved some level of critical mass that makes it a prime target.

Based on trends in 2010 - both trends in what and how technology is used, as well as trends in attack techniques and attack volume - McAfee surveyed the evolving threat landscape and made some projections for the coming year. Those predictions include a rise in attacks focused on social networking, exploiting geolocation check-in data, and targeting mobile platforms like smartphones and tablets.

That brings us, more or less to Apple's newfound prominence as a malware target. Apple is a leader in both the smartphone and tablet markets, and its Mac OS X platform has been steadily expanding its footprint. Mac OS X has matured from a niche platform for hipsters with money to blow, to a mainstream OS that many businesses and consumers rely on.

The common belief among Apple loyalists that Mac OS X is virtually impervious to attack is a significant part of what makes it so vulnerable. The Apple platform has never been as invulnerable as users believe - easily hacked and compromised by attacks at security conferences. Mac OS X has primarily benefited from being too small of a target to be worth investing the time and effort to exploit, but the rise of the platform, combined with the introduction of the app culture in the upcoming Mac OS X Lion, give attackers something to work with.

The McAfee report explains, "McAfee Labs saw malware of increasing sophistication that targets Mac this year; we expect this trend to increase in 2011. The popularity of iPads and iPhones in business environments and the easy portability of malicious code between them could put many users and businesses at risk next year and beyond," adding "We anticipate threats of data and identity exposure will become more pronounced."

Mac OS X still represents a mere fraction of the potential Windows-based victims out there, but the false sense of security and general lack of understanding of security threats actually make it an easier target. The rise of mobility -- and Apple's prominent role in smartphones and tablets -- also paint a bull's eye on Apple's back.

If McAfee is right, 2011 could be a bittersweet year for Apple and Apple fans.


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