This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Business Agility, sponsored by IBM. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Business Agility site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

Macs and Malware

Apple recently (sort of) acknowledged that Macs are not immune from malware. Here's why it's past time to run AV on Macs.

Apple made a subtle change on its Website, tacitly acknowledging that Macs are not inherently immune to malware. That and the economics say it's time to equip Macs with AV.

For many years Apple has pretended that the snakepit of malware which is the PC user's everyday experience not only does not happen on Macs -- it cannot happen on Macs. This has always been disingenuous. The Mac user's peaceful and virus-free existence was only possible because the platform wasn't worth the candle. Its market share was too small to be profitable for malware writers, who concentraded on the low-hanging fruit of the 95 percent of computers that ran the Windows operating system.

The Flashback virus, which lodged on 600,000 Macs last spring, was a wakeup call to many in the Mac community. Yet even this widespread infestation did not convince Apple to acknowledge that a little judicious anti-virus protection was in order. The company's "Why you'll love a Mac page" continued to read:

It doesn't get PC viruses. A Mac isn't susceptible to the thousands of viruses plaguing Windows-based computers. That's thanks to built-in defenses in Mac OS X that keep you safe, without any work on your part.

Over the previous weekend, Computerworld-Australia's Hamish Barwick noticed that Apple had quietly updated this wording. It now reads:

It's built to be safe. Built-in defenses in OS X keep you safe from unknowingly downloading malicious software on your Mac.

Here is a before-and-after graphic.

Antivirus makers, in particular, were quick to pick up on the subtle change in Apple's emphasis. The New York Times quotes a security researcher looking askance at these companies' evident self-interest.

The market share for OS X is now around 12 percent, acording to the Times, up from a mere fraction of that figure several years ago. (The Mac's share of computers inside corporations is almost certainly lower.) I have personally always assumed that by the time OS X reached a 20 percent share -- if it ever did -- the platform would be of interest to a significant number of malware writers.

There is an economic argument that Mac users present a more lucrative target to fraudsters than PC users do. In an article revealing that the travel company Orbitz has begun systematically presenting Mac-using visitors with higher-priced hotel choices -- predictive analytics in action -- the Wall Street Journal mentions that the average household income of Mac users is a third higher than that of PC users (figures from Forrester).

It is time to run anti-virus software on all Macintosh computers. No more excuses.