"You're lucky you don't have to deal with this stuff, Mac," a biohazard suit-clad PC played by John Hodgman said about viruses to Justin Long's Mac in one of the ads in an iconic line of commercials that started airing in 2006. For years, Mac users have enjoyed a smug sense of superiority on this front. But a new vulnerability is the latest sign that the security of Apple products doesn't actually live up to the hype.
When you see a lock icon next to the URL in your browser, that's a sign that your communications are protected with the SSL encryption technology. But on Friday, Apple admitted that its version of SSL had a fatal flaw that could allow hackers to intercept and modify users' secure communications. The situation became even worse over the weekend as researchers reported that the issue affected not only mobile devices running Apple's iOS operating system but also many applications within the Mac OS X laptop and desktop suite, including Mail and Safari. Apple told Reuters that the company was working on an OS X patch Sunday night.
The SSL bug is just the most recent of the company's security woes. The company's "Buy A Mac" Web page once proudly declared that OS X "defends against viruses and other malicious applications, or malware" with "virtually no" user effort. But that changed in June 2012, after up to over half a million OS X users were reportedly infected with a trojan malware called "Flashback." Some computers on Apple's own network were hacked in a 2013 breach that reportedly was similarly related to Java.
Apple's tiny market share has always given the Cupertino, Calif., company an unfair advantage. Since the dawn of the Internet age, Macs have been far outnumbered by PCs, leading hackers to devote a disproportionate share of their resources to Windows malware. The payoff for discovering or exploiting a security vulnerability was much greater if you targeted the more popular operating system. So, as technology became networked like never before, Windows and its programs were put through a more rigorous gauntlet than Apple's products.
While Apple products have risen to prominence again thanks to the success of mobile devices, Android controls the majority of that market -- and attracts the vast majority of the malware. The more rigorous app approval process for iOS devices is part of the reason for that, but it's also likely that Apple is just not as juicy of a target as some of its competitors.
The latest revelations are hardly the first time Apple has faced security issues. There were viruses back on retro machines like the Apple II, and the company once shipped malware-laden iPods. But maybe these bugs will be enough to finally kill the myth of the secure Mac.