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Security Firm Says Apple Asking for Assessment
By Barry Levine
Posted: May 14, 2012 2:39pm PDT

To help battle the growing malware problem on Macs and OS X, Kaspersky Labs has recommended creating a non-administrator account for everyday activities, using a sandboxed Mac Web browser such as Chrome, uninstalling the standalone Flash Player, uninstalling Java or disabling it in browsers, and using Office 2011 instead of 2008.

Apple's Macs have been subject to a variety of high-profile security threats in recent months. Now, according to Kaspersky Labs, Apple has asked the security firm for a vulnerability analysis.

According to the chief technology officer for Kaspersky, Apple has approached his company to analyze its platform. Nikolay Grebrennikov told reporters about this development and added that, in his opinion, the computer maker had not previously taken security issues "seriously enough." Apple has not confirmed the arrangement.

'10 Years Behind Microsoft'

As one example, Grebrennikov cited a vulnerability in Java, which was exploited by the Flashback Trojan earlier this year and which infected a reported 600,000 Macs. Apple, he said, released its Java fix several months after Oracle did.

In April, shortly after the extent of the widely distributed Flashback Trojan on Macs became known, Kaspersky Lab CEO and co-founder Eugene Kaspersky charged that Apple was "10 years behind Microsoft in security," and he predicted that Apple products would increasingly become a more inviting target for malware.

While the comments of Kaspersky executives could well be seen as self-serving, Apple appears to have gotten at least some of this message. In February, developer previews of the new OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion included a new feature called Gatekeeper. This optional setting will enable Mac owners to allow only apps that have a free, signed certificate provided to legitimate developers by Apple.

For years, Macs have enjoyed a reputation -- undeserved, according to most experts -- of being virtually impervious to malware. But, as their sales have increased, so has their appeal as a target.

Last month, security firm Sophos reported that it had conducted a study which showed that as many as 20 percent of all Macs had some form of malware -- which had actually been designed for Windows machines. In addition, the study, which surveyed 100,000 Macs, found that 2.7 percent of Macs had malware targeted at the OS X platform.

'A Wake-Up Call'

At the time that the study was announced, Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, noted in a statement that "some Mac users may be relieved that they are seven times more likely to have Windows viruses, spyware and Trojans" than Mac ones, but "Mac users need a wake-up call about the growing malware problem."

Windows-targeted malware cannot do harm on a Mac platform, but it can cause damage if the user runs Windows as a secondary operating system, or if the infected files are shared with a Windows machine.

Seventy-five percent of the Macs that had OS X malware had the Flashback Trojan, which Sophos refers to as OSX/Flshplyr.

To help battle the growing malware problem on Macs, Kaspersky Labs has recommended creating a non-administrator account for everyday activities, using a sandboxed Web browser such as Chrome, uninstalling the standalone Flash Player, uninstalling Java or at least disabling it in browsers, and using Office 2011 instead of 2008.

Sophos has recommended an up-to-date anti-virus program, up-to-date OS and application security patches, and caution about which programs are installed, which links are clicked, and which attachments are opened.

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