As Apple releases Mac OS X 10.4, aka “Tiger,” analysts have praised the companys security efforts so far, while cautioning that a rise in the market share for the Mac could lead to more attention being paid to the platform from hackers.
The release of the update is widely expected to create more interest in the platform from consumers who are looking for an alternative to Windows. Apple has highlighted security as one of the strengths of Mac OS X, thanks to features such as its firewall and use of a secure administrator account.
The companys market share has risen, with Gartner Inc. recently reporting that Apple had moved into the fifth spot in the U.S. sales league with 3.7 percent of the market, overtaking Toshiba America Inc. IDC also placed Apple in fifth, with 3.9 percent of the market in the United States.
And the future could be even brighter for Apple, with a recent report by Morgan Stanley analysts claiming that the company could see its market share double by the end of 2005.
However, this growth may mean the platform will become more attractive to virus writers and other exploiters of security holes. According to Rufus Connell, research director for information technology at business analyst Frost & Sullivan, a rise in the market share for Mac OS X could make it a more tempting target for hackers looking to compromise security.
“Apples Unix-based operating systems havent experienced anywhere near the number of attacks or exploits as Microsofts Windows OS has. That said, Apple has been protected in one part by its engineering, but in many parts by its market share and visibility. Microsoft, with nearly 97 percent of the market, is a much more appealing target,” he said.
Other analysts agreed with Connell. “Apple was involved in 37 of 1,403 new vulnerabilities for the six months ended Dec. 31, 2004, according to the latest Symantec Internet Security Threat Report,” said Vericours Inc. director Peter S. Kastner.
“While the ratio of new Apple vulnerabilities to total new vulnerabilities approximates Apples market share, the severity and impact on organizations can only be categorized as much lower than with Microsoft operating systems,” Kastner said. “I agree with Symantec that Apples growing success will bring more attacks, but so far Apple has been able to keep up with—if not a step ahead of—the bad guys.”
The release of Tiger sees several new security-focused features added to Mac OS X, including support for Kerberos-based VPNs and a stealth mode for its firewall, which ensures that uninvited traffic receives no response from the computer.
Tiger also sees the introduction of Safe Downloads, a feature which warns users whenever an application attempts to download files whose source is untrusted, as well as a system of secure virtual memory that prevents the contents of the systems swap file being read by other users.
Last year, anti-virus company Sophos Plc. discovered what is believed to be the first example of Mac OS X malware. Opener, also called Renepo, was a script designed to harvest passwords, but lacked an effective method of propagation beyond copying itself to all mounted volumes in the hope that other users would open it.
At the time, the company also cautioned Mac users against becoming complacent over malware, with senior technology consultant Graham Cluley warning that “clearly the various people behind Renepo have been working on their malicious script for some time, and its quite possible they will refine it and use it maliciously in the future.”
Sophos today announced that its Anti-Virus for Mac OS X product has been updated to be compatible with Tiger.