The biggest vulnerability to Macintosh computers is the belief among their devoted users that Apple's superior operating system makes them immune to malware, experts say.
"Some Mac users have this perception that the Mac is free from hacks and that is completely wrong," said Zheng Bu, senior director of research for FireEye, which develops anti-malware products.
Mac users, said Kevin Haley, Symantec director of product management for security response, "have let their guard down."
While the vast majority of malware is aimed at Windows operating systems, the growing market share of MacBooks and iMacs is making Apple computers a bigger target. In recent years, Macintosh computers have garnered about 20 percent of the U.S. consumer market, said Stephen Baker, the hardware analyst at the NPD Group. "They are gaining," he said.
Macs going mainstream may be great for Apple's bottom line, but it also makes the Macintosh operating system a bigger target for hackers, experts say.
"We are seeing more and more Macs getting infected," Haley said.
The first computer viruses actually were aimed at Apple computers, said Andrew Conway, a researcher at Cloudmark, which works on Internet security problems. "Back in the day, the first virus appeared on Macs," which was more sophisticated than Microsoft Disk Operating System, or MS-DOS, he said. "You could write a virus on it, and you couldn't do that on DOS."
Many Mac users have long assumed Apple's operating system, which is tightly knitted with the hardware the company also designs, has stronger security than Windows. Conway, though, said there is no way to prove that is true.
While Apple is good about fixing its vulnerabilities, "the Mac hasn't come under the kind of attack we've seen with the Windows PC ," he said.
The Macintosh operating system is "not a super-system made by super-people," Conway added.
What is certain is the Macintosh operating system is once again becoming attractive to hackers.
Last year, the Flashback Trojan malware infected an estimated 600,000 Macs by appearing to be a browser plug-in but actually stole personal information. In February, Apple said Macs operated by Apple employees were infected with Java-related malware when they visited a software development Web site. The Cupertino, Calif., company did not disclose how many of its employees' computers were infected or when. (continued...)
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