updated 01:40 am EST, Thu January 19, 2012
More than before, but not consummate with growth
The Mac platform saw a modest increase in malware outbreaks in 2011 over years past, but still "a small fraction" when compared to Windows, said security firm F-Secure. It added that while malware attacks were increasing, the rate of increase was not commensurate with the growth of the platform, suggesting that most exploits tend to come from programs rather than flaws in the OS itself. In all, the company identified 58 separate threats in 2011, most stemming from a handful of vulnerabilities.
According to the report, trojans were the most popular form of attack with 28 variants, with backdoor exploits comprising another 15. The company did not say how many malware attacks had been seen in previous years, nor did it specify the exact number of Windows malware attacks for comparison.
Threats to the Mac appeared most frequently in June and October, and fell off to nearly none in late summer. This year was notable for the more extensive coverage given to malware threats, including the MacDefender "anti-virus" malware that made headlines over its fairly successful "social engineering" trick of masquerading as a preventative to threats.
The MacDefender malware prompted Apple to begin putting automatic malware protection definitions into OS X (which are silently updated on a routine basis). The malware was "killed off" when Russian authorities raided the Russian online payment processor ChronoPay that was apparently the home of the attack.
Other malwares have been spotted hiding inside pirated Mac apps, including illegal copies of GraphicConverter 7.4 and iWork. A backdoor threat was found in other pirated Mac software, which called itself a virus but ultimately was unable to do much harm.
This fall, a fake "Flash Installer" offered by some sites tried to steal passwords and take screenshots that were sent to a remote server in hopes of obtaining personal data. A later variant tried to actively disable the built-in Apple malware protections, but like most other malware was largely unsuccessful at accomplishing its programmed goals.
F-Secure, which also sells anti-"virus" and malware software and thus has some self-interest in promoting Mac security, said that it expects "more of the same" pattern of malware attacks in 2012, as hacker try to discover programs with exploits and inject code into them -- the same principle used by jailbreaking software for iOS, though so far the mobile OS has not been affected by any serious threats, unlike its rival Android.