A new piece of malware has caused an uptick in Apple customers reporting infected machines, renewing a timeless debate on the state of Macintosh security versus Windows. The trojan horse is called Mac Defender. It's a web pop-up containing a spoof message that tells customers their machines are infected by a virus and they must install anti-virus software. If customers agree to install the software, the program sporadically loads porn websites on their computer.
The general consensus among security researchers is that there's nothing about the Mac that makes it inherently more secure than Windows -- indeed, the Mac platform has been easily penetrated in the Pwn2Own hacking contest in years past. But Windows has always been a juicier target for malicious hackers because it has much larger market share than the Mac.
As a result, when customers switch from a Windows to a Mac, they're often under the impression that they're switching to a more secure, sterile environment where they won't need to install expensive, resource-hogging anti-virus software. While it's not true that the Mac is more secure, theplatform is generally "safer" because fewer people target it, security researchers have told Wired.com in the past.
Charlie Miller, a security researcher who has repeatedly won the annual Pwn2Own hacking contest by hacking Macs and iPhones, told Wired.com he doesn't think so. Miller noted that Microsoft recently pointed out that 1 in 14 downloads on Windows are malicious. And the fact that there is just one piece of Mac malware being widely discussed illustrates how rare malware still is on the Mac platform, he said.
Though the conclusion is unclear, the moral of this story is to be wary that Mac malware is in the wild, and be cautious about installing sketchy software from unfamiliar sources. Mac Defender may be the first wake-up call for people who believed that Macs don't get viruses.