Malicious Intent

By  Ben Halpert — September 04, 2009

"Hi. Welcome to the Apple Store. Can I help you?"  says the Apple Specialist in a calm yet monotone voice.

"Yes, I am looking to purchase anti-virus software for my MacBook Pro," I reply.

"Hmm, I don't think we sell that here," he says in the same neutral voice.

"According to the Apple website you do carry it in the store," I assert.

"OK, well if we do, it would be towards the back against the wall with all the software," he says, pointing the way.

I walk past the Geniuses busy helping customers at the Genius Bar and a multitude of Specialists helping potential customers at the various product displays.

Upon reaching the software display, I see that they indeed stock anti-virus products, along with firewall, backup, anti-spyware, and other related system utilities.

I select the product I'm looking for (you know, the one they didn't carry!) and proceed to the checkout line. Which, fortunately for Apple, was quite long per usual.

There are two Cashiers assisting customers with their purchases and two roving Cashiers (based on their shirt colors I believe they are actually Specialists working double duty on checkout).

"Sir, you know Macs don't get viruses, don't you?" the substitute cashier tells me, after looking at the software retail box.

A moment of silence ensues, accompanied by a quizzical look upon my face as I debate how to answer the question.

Taking a deep breath, I decide to keep it short and sweet. "There are viruses and other malicious code that are targeted towards vulnerabilities in Mac OS X."

"Well maybe one or two," he replies.

"More than that," I say, and I choose to disengage from the conversation. It's not my job to convince this Apple enthusiast, who apparently has drunk WAY too much of the Corporate Kool-Aid.

"I don't know about that. Would you like to buy this anyway," he says gesturing with the box in his hand.

"Yes," I respond.

I leave the store wondering, "Did that really just happen?"

Indeed it did.

Two months later, two friends call me. Each owns an iMac and is having trouble with it. The systems are running extremely slow, can't connect to the Internet, and are almost unresponsive.  I ask each of them if they are running anti-virus software and they both reply, "No, I thought Macs don't get viruses."

I guess the Apple marketing campaign is working.

I remove the Trojans on my friends' iMacs and recommend that they install anti-virus software to reduce the likelihood of system infection from happening again.

Viruses and other malicious code categories do exist that target vulnerabilities in Macs, as well as other operating systems.

Individuals and organizations with malicious intent are opportunists. When the majority of individuals and corporations used Windows-based systems, great focus was placed on attacking Windows machines because those machines stored valuable information.

As Macs started dominating the consumer market, and at a slower pace in the enterprise, they are becoming a more valuable target. Hence we will see an increase in malicious code designed to compromise data on Macs (if you're curious, iPhones run the same Mac OS base code).

Just because there may not be many examples of malicious code that currently target BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, and other systems this doesn't mean your organization should ignore the future risk.

Planning for the eventual deployment of anti-malware solutions that focus on non-Windows based systems in advance of the threat may help your organization be less impacted by the first large-scale malicious code event targeted towards disparate platforms.

And ignore the marketing. You have a business to run.

Ben Halpert CISSP, is an information security researcher and practitioner and writes monthly about security. Comments, questions and requests can be sent to him at; please include SECURITY in the subject line.


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