Friday, October 22, 2010

Neither Mac nor Windows users are safe from malware

Mac-based computers are receiving more attention from both cyber criminals and security vendors.

Malware generally targets the most popular operating systems. As a result, Windows-based PCs have generally been the most common victims of malware, and have received the most attention from security vendors. However, the growing diversity of Mac-based devices and their presence in international markets is turning them into a popular new target for cyber criminals on the cutting edge of malware technology.

Experts have recently stressed the mounting malware threats facing Mac users. Ivan Fermon, senior vice president of product management for Panda Security, said cyber criminals are increasingly looking to Mac-based devices as the targets of their new malware attacks.

"We are approaching a tipping point where it will soon be financially viable for cyber criminals to target their efforts at Mac users," Fermon said.

Specifically, Mac users are beginning to reach the market share at which cyber criminals consider them a profitable source to exploit. While these threats have been expanding gradually during past years, analysts anticipate a sudden influx of new scams aimed at Mac once it reaches that prominent level of market share.

"When Apple reaches 15 percent market share worldwide, which Panda expects will happen very soon, we predict that hackers will begin to aggressively target attacks against this platform," Fermon added.

Apple has even related a slew of new mobile devices based on its Mac operating system. As users continue to access the web from a varied set of Mac devices, an equally diverse arsenal of malware will exploit them.

"The rapid increase in use of Apple-powered devices - iPhones, iPods, iPads - is also making the Mac platform a much more attractive target," Fermon said.

In fact, Mac-based malware has seen significant gains in recent years. While Apple has become the third-ranked computer vendor in the U.S., with 10.6 percent of market share, Panda security has seen a rise in malware coincide with its growth. According to the security firm, more than 5,000 strains of current malware campaign specifically target Mac-based devices.

This is expected to grow dramatically, as the firm predicts approximately 500 new malware strains aimed at the system to appear every month. The growth has already begun, as 2010 has seen 175 new attacks aimed at Mac, compared to just 34 last year, according to Panda Security. These numbers are all based on simply the malware that Panda Security is aware of that targets just Mac-based systems, meaning additional threats that can infiltrate multiple systems or have yet to be discovered by Panda are also lurking behind the scenes.

However, the developments don't mean Windows PC users are off the hook, as Microsoft recently announced it sold more than 240 million licenses for its new Windows 7 operating system. The rapid Windows growth is destined to attract additional malware, further emphasizing the need for anti-malware software.