Apples Switch to Intel Could Allow OS X Exploits

News Analysis: Apple's shift to Intel processors will make it easier to create software exploits in Macintosh systems, analysts warn.

The recent move by Apple Computer to begin shipping Macintosh computers that use microprocessors from Intel could open the door to more attacks against computers running the companys OS X operating system, security experts warn.

The shift to Intel processors from the Motorola Power PC processors will make it easier to create software exploits for Macintosh systems, and could result in a steady stream of Mac exploits in years to come.

The change could put more pressure on Apple to build security features into OS X, according to interviews conducted by eWEEK.

Apple declined requests for interviews. In an e-mail statement, the company said that the security technologies and processes that have made Mac OS X secure for PowerPC remain the same for Intel-based Macs.

Apple first announced its intention to deliver Macs that use Intel processors in June and said it plans to transition all of its Macs to Intel by the end of 2007.

The companys CEO, Steve Jobs, unveiled the first Intel-based systems using Intels dual-core Duo chip earlier this month at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco.

The move to Intel will end a 10-year relationship with Motorola, which produced the PowerPC microprocessors used in Macs, and is expected to bring immediate improvements in both processing power and efficiency to Apple.

However, experts cite a number of ways in which the shift to Intel will spell trouble for engineers at Apple and for Mac users:

  • History: Using the Intel x86 platform pulls Macintosh systems onto the same platform used by Microsofts Windows computers, a prime target of the hacking community for years.

"Attackers have been focused on the [Intel] x86 for over a decade. Macintosh will have a lot more exposure than when it was on PowerPC," said Oliver Friedrichs, a senior manager at Symantec Corp. Security Response.

There are many more malicious hackers who understand the x86 architecture in-depth than understand the PowerPC. And attackers have access to hundreds of documents and examples of how to exploit common vulnerabilities on x86, whereas exploits for PowerPC are far fewer, Friedrichs said.

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"[Intel x86] lowers the bar dramatically for someone trying to exploit a vulnerability," he said.

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