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Is Apple airtight?

SANS - Survey on application security programs

The unveiling of Apple's super-thin MacBook Air promises to expand further the Mac user base. That's troubling news for a platform that, as it enjoys greater uptake, risks the darker side of fandom - stalkers. Or, in this case, hackers and virus writers.

Security specialist F-Secure's latest claim to have discovered the first rogue program for the Apple Macintosh - MacSweeper - comes only weeks after it reported it's finding an alarming increase in the quantity of malware written for the Mac.

The MacSweeper scam - a Mac version of the false security scan familiar to Windows users - surfaced last month when some Mac users noticed the program had sneaked into their Mac OS/X systems.

The scammers cheekily stole the MacSweeper name from an obscure open source Mac clean-up utility program that has been available free since 2004. Whether consciously or not, they managed to exploit the confusion among some naive Mac users.

Apple users are, ahem, traditionally overly confident about their platform's security capabilities and F-Secure's report was dismissed as a cynical ploy to sell security protection.

This is a common criticism of security software companies. But the MacSweeper scam - while not an actual security breach - does highlight the possibility that the Mac's increased sales last year have made it a more attractive target for hackers.

Security specialist Secunia also noted that a small increase in Macintosh security problems in 2007 and a recently highlighted flaw in Quicktime - that still awaits a fix - raises questions about the Mac community's view of security issues.

Last month, Apple's attitude to security fixes was questioned and the criticism again rejected by Mac users with snooty assertions that Mac OS/X was secure - or at least a lot more secure than Microsoft Windows systems. So much so that there is a potentially huge contract waiting for Apple to supply the US military with Macs mainly because they are seen as more secure than PCs.

Apple has, of course, always maintained it takes security seriously. The recent Leopard release of Mac OS/X included new security features that were followed with updates in December.

The problem is that no matter how secure software is, there is always a way to break it and there will always be those who see it as a challenge. Times change, and Apple's growing user community cannot afford to be smug.®

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