A decade ago, Apple operating systems were considered safer than Windows. Flash forward to present day, iOS and OS X are seeing a surge in threats as attackers double their efforts on targeting popular Apple devices. We take a look at the current Apple OS threat landscape and provide some tips on staying safe on your iPhone, iPad and Mac.
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Remember those advertisements from Apple touting Macintosh desktops as a safer alternative to Windows-based computers which are riddled with bugs and are more prone to viruses? Mind you, Apple's PC marketshare at the time was tiny compared with Microsoft so it provided less incentive for attackers to create malware for its operating systems.
But things have changed. Last week, security vendor Symantec released a whitepaper detailing how the increased uptake of Apple products have prompted a surge in the number of infections and new malware threats for iOS and OS X operating systems in the past two years. For iOS, the number of new malware threats found by Symantec has more than doubled, from three in 2014 to seven this year. This brings the total number of documented iOS malware threats to 13, nine of which can only infect jailbroken Apple mobile devices.
"Many threats are installed when the target connects their device to a compromised desktop computer. Jailbroken devices present more opportunities for compromise and many threats are designed to take advantage of jailbroken phones," Symantec said in a blog post.
As for Mac OS X, the number of threats jumped 15 per cent in 2014. This followed an increase of 44 percent in 2013 and an increase of 29 percent in 2012. While all this pales in comparison to the number of threats found on Windows operating systems, it does show a trend that attackers are becoming more interested in finding their way into Apple devices.
"Although still small in terms of overall numbers, the number of new OS X and iOS threats discovered annually has been trending upwards over the past five years," Symantec said. "Given this trend, Apple users cannot be complacent about security. Awareness of common threats combined with properly securing Apple devices should minimize the risk of infection."
That's not to say Apple's competitors are faring any better. Google's Android OS is still dealing with its Stagefright security clusterfuck and Play Store has reported its fair share of malicious apps. Meanwhile, Microsoft released a bunch of patches for critical security vulnerabilities across different Windows operating systems just last week.
The fact of the matter is attacks on all of the popular operating systems for mobiles and desktops are on the rise. Attackers are becoming more persistent, targeted and sophisticated. The only thing we can do is to take precautions to protect ourselves against these threats.
For Apple users, Symantec has provided some guidelines on how to stay safe on your iOS or OS X device:
- Keep your operating system and all other software up-to-date. Software updates frequently include patches to newly discovered security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers.
- If you are considering jailbreaking an iOS device, exercise caution and educate yourself on the risks you may be exposed to. The majority of iOS threats target jailbroken devices and unofficial app stores are more likely to host Trojanised apps.
- Only install software from reputable sources. Some third-party OS X app stores have been found to host Trojanised software. Grayware, such as adware, and potentially unwanted or misleading applications are often bundled with installers for other applications.
- Delete any suspicious-looking emails you receive, especially if they include links and/or attachments. Don’t even open them, just delete them. If they purport to come from legitimate organisations, verify with the organisation in question first.