Macs Are Virus Targets, Some Experts Warn
Sunday, April 30, 2006; 3:14 PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- Benjamin Daines was browsing the Web when he clicked on a series of links that promised pictures of an unreleased update to his computer's operating system.
Instead, a window opened on the screen and strange commands ran as if the machine was under the control of someone _ or something _ else.
Daines was the victim of a computer virus.
Such headaches are hardly unusual on PCs running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system. Daines, however, was using a Mac _ an Apple Computer Inc. machine often touted as being immune to such risks.
He and at least one other person who clicked on the links were infected by what security experts call the first-ever virus for Mac OS X, the operating system that has shipped with every Mac sold since 2001 and has survived virtually unscathed from the onslaught of malware unleashed on the Internet in recent years.
"It just shows people that no matter what kind of computer you use you are still open to some level of attack," said Daines, a 29-year-old British chemical engineer who once considered Macs invulnerable to such attacks.
Apple's iconic status, growing market share and adoption of same microprocessors used in machines running Windows are making Macs a bigger target, some experts warn.
Apple's most recent wake-up call came last week, as a Southern California researcher reported seven new vulnerabilities. Tom Ferris said malicious Web sites can exploit the holes without a user's knowledge, potentially allowing a criminal to execute code remotely and gain access to passwords and other sensitive information.
Ferris said he warned Apple of the vulnerabilities in January and February and that the company has yet to patch the holes, prompting him to compare the Cupertino-based computer maker to Microsoft three years ago, when the world's largest software company was criticized for being slow to respond to weaknesses in its products.
"They didn't know how to deal with security, and I think Apple is in the same situation now," said Ferris, himself a Mac user.
Apple officials point to the company's virtually unvarnished security track record and disputed claims that Mac OS X is more susceptible to attack now than in the past.
Apple plans to patch the holes reported by Ferris in the next automatic update of Mac OS X, and there have been no reports of them being exploited, spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said. She disagreed that the vulnerabilities make it possible for a criminal to run code on a targeted machine.