Apple malware: 6 years of crying wolf

“Three days after ZDNet ran a piece entitled ‘Coming Soon to a Mac Near You: Serious Malware,’ Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has posted, under the headline ‘Wolf!’ more than a dozen variations on the same theme,” Philip Elmer-DeWitt repots for Fortune.

“They date back to 2004 and all sound a familiar warning: Apple, having achieved critical mass in the market place, is about to get hit by the same waves of viruses, worms, trojans and other species of malware that plague the world of Microsoft Windows,” P.E.D. reports.

Read more in the full article here.

Gruber’s “Wolf!” article is here.

Related article:
Is Mac under a virus attack? No. – May 4, 2011


          1. You’re right, don’t be stupid. Don’t download crap from pirate sites or torrents, don’t authorize a sudden ‘application’ installation popup, and don’t even bother clicking on the emails for free pics of _________ naked and you’ll be fine. That is the state of Mac Malware today, same as always for OS X for 10 years. There is your reality

            1. Bunch of f*gs. I still have every box from every Mac (20+) and the system diskettes from my 512k on up.
              I don’t have to justify to you morons – you’re internet bitches with internet balls. So keep on goin’ clowns…

            2. I concur.
              Anyone who’s best retort is “Bunch of f*gs…”, has *not* been using Macs since ’85. Just not possible.
              What a maroon.

            3. Did I read that right? You are saying “Me In LA” could not have been using a Mac in 1985? Macs were introduced January 24th, 1984.

              1985 to 1986 was the big Desktop Publishing era.
              Some of us even used Aldus PageMaker version 1.
              Not everyone is a youngster here. And don’t think for one minute that as we gain market share hackers aren’t going to target us more. No once knows if they will succeed. So far Apple has done a great job with the built-in security of the OS. I’m confident but always vigilant and careful.

            4. I should add I’m confident enough that I have never installed anti-Virus software in my computer or any of the hundreds I have set up for clients (and I spend time to educate them on what not to fall for). Not one compromise yet.

          2. One of the surest signs of a pc troll is when they make obviously fake claims of being a “longtime Mac user”. They think that gives them credibility, and yet seem not to know that they’re transparently lame.

      1. … RIGHT ! ! ! But, consider … it can either a) get worse b) stay the same or c) get better. And it would be pretty hard for it to “get better”! Really? And, staying the same is unlikely.
        I predict … um … THREE Trojans a week by this time next year. There. 50% worse ! ! !

    1. Windows on the other hand:

      During 2008 Windows experienced the release of 22,000 new viruses PER DAY.

      (I wasn’t able to quickly find newer numbers.)

        1. macs suffer from 2 exploits out of 2.
          no way do windoze pcs suffer from 30,000 out of 30,000 exploits.

          it’s a matter of perspective.

          btw, ‘smartphones’ etc are the worst.

    2. What’s your problem asshat? Some reason you feel the need to come onto this forum for the first time in such a profane and rude manner?
      I also highly doubt that you have even even owned a Mac, or you would realize that everything you claim is pure fantasy, BS, and flame bait.
      Please go troll on the Windows sites…

    3. Right you are Me In LA. Those Kool-Aid drinkers are going to make it a challenge for a hacker to mess with Mac’s. It’s no more difficult than a Windows machine. It just hasn’t been that interesting yet. They’ll be the first to cry once it starts. Hey, they’re just fanboys so what do you expect?

      1. So how come there were several dozen viruses for Mac OS 9 and below when it had 1.5% to 2.0% marketshare, but there are no viruses for Mac OS X when it has over 10% marketshare?

        OH SNAP

        You = losing. Also, Windows = losing.

        Its pretty sad how Microsoft has convinced so many people that it’s impossible for an OS to have working security.

  1. Great job by John Gruber, as usual.

    As John makes clear, we’ve been hearing this same tune for the past decade.

    We’ve been using Macs since ’89 and have never experienced any malware incident of any kind. That says it all for us.

    1. 100% true.
      Problem is, the computer-using age of folks has gone way up. And many folks may have their first computer. A well-disguised trojan or other human-engineering exploit can get an otherwise smart person to click something bad. Don’t you people think that the average person reading /posting on a tech site is smarter or more knowledgeable than your mother? Grandmother?
      Burying your heads in the sand helps nobody, and doesn’t make the Mac any better.

      1. Yeah, but what also goes “way up” as time passes is the tech-savviness of the average user. Sure, there will always be those clueless idiots that will enter their password for anything. But their numbers are dropping, and the vast majority of them own Windows boxes.


      2. Obviously, you’ve not been watching the MDN boards. There is a profusion of neanderthals who post political screeds. My grandmere was *much* smarter than they.

  2. The only successful Mac malware that I recall was actually MS Office malware from the mid 1990s. I believe that it used macros. My work Mac has been wasting clock cycles for many years running antivirus software and has never spotted anything dangerous to a Mac. It’s all to protect the Windows PC crowd. PC malware is big business.

    1. KingMel, as I recall, there were a few hundred viruses that could infect OS 9. Perhaps someone will remember that number. That’s not much at all, but it was more than one. And, unless something has changed, even today, Macs can house MS Office-specific viruses which generally do nothing except to an occasional MS Office file, but can be passed on to the unenlightened.

  3. Since buying one of the very first Macs off the assembly line in 1984, my many, many, many Macs have stayed virus free while running naked in the wild.

    1. For the umpteenth time, OSX is BSD Unix. Unix has locks on each file providing various levels of access for individual users to individual files. Only system admins have write privileges to system files. Nothing in the system files can be changed without an admin password. There is no registry.

      Windows has a registry that anyone with access to the machine can write to. Windows has system files laying around in the open for anyone with any kind of access to modify.

      The differences are so obvious and fundamental that anyone paying attention should be able to recognize that Unix was built for networking whereas Windows was not. Windows security is a patchwork of add-ons. There is no comparison. those who can’t or won’t recognize the difference are either ignorant or trolls.

      1. “In Apple’s security bulletin for the April 22, 2011 release of OS X 10.6.7, I counted 23 separate fixes for vulnerabilities that allow “arbitrary code execution” in the current shipping version of OS X. At least three of those vulnerabilities are new in Snow Leopard and did not exist in previous versions of OS X.

        For those who aren’t familiar with security terminology, “arbitrary code execution” means “no user interaction required.” It is the nightmare scenario of online security: The attacker sets up a web page containing hostile code or creates an ordinary looking document, image, or movie file. When you visit that web page or open that document or look at that picture or play that video clip—or even if you just download a file—the attacker’s code runs, potentially giving him complete control over your machine.

        No permission dialog boxes pop up, and no password prompts are required.”

        1. I know what “arbitrary code execution” means, and it doesn’t mean “give the hacker complete control over your machine”. It just means some program runs that you didn’t want to run. The problem for the hacker is that this intruder program will just run with basic privileges and not be able to do much.

          In order to get the malware to the point where it can do something dangerous, a second type of vulnerability, “privilege escalation” needs to be employed. These are found (and fixed) all the time as well, but virtually always require manual action on the part of the hacker.

          That’s the problem with the vast majority of OS X malware scenarios: they’re extremely hard to automate. When OS X is the first OS to go down every year in the “Pwn to Own” hacking competition, notice how every time, every single time, the hacker waits patiently at the keyboard of his hacking box for the victim to click on the bad link.

          This is not how malware distributors want to do their business. They don’t want to have to manually root each and every OS X box. They want something they can release into the wild that will automate the hacking for them and make the victim Macs ready to exploit. And that holy grail of OS X hacking is still nowhere near being a reality.


      2. Plus – being a UNIX system, if you want to install something even logged in as an admin the system will prompt you for userid and password. So you have to stop and say “self, why am I being asked to give credentials here.”
        On Windows, if you are logged in as an admin, I believe the virus/malware programs will just execute – which is why the machines get infected and the users don’t know.

      3. Me thinks you need an education on NTFS and Registry permissions on windows. lol.

        You can’t just write to the registry with any user account. HKEY_CURRENT_USER sure, but that’s your user profile portion.

        Same with the filesystem, you can’t just blast over anything in the system32 folder, you also cannot just modify any system file.

        Windows has had fine grained access control on the registry and the filesystem since NT first came out.

        The issue has been that *historically* MS never leveraged what was already there. Everyone used to log in as admin, hell I bet a lot of people still do!

        As a user of both, I think that UNIX has easier access controls that make more sense and make it easier to secure the OS but Windows is hardly lacking in them, they just were never really leveraged until Vista.

        1. Yes, you are right. Windows has a very fine grained ACL since NT era. That is exactly of problem of lots of non-Apple solution. A too fine grained protection solution is equal to no protection. A way too much of knobs and buttons to average users is equal to no knobs and buttons. That is what Apple’s UI is much better than Android and others. KISS (Keep it simple and stupid).

          1. I wouldn’t expect normal user’s to know how to configure NTFS or registry permissions, nor should they be expected to do that!

            Same with OS X, you should not *need* to understand UNIX permissions as an everyday user of the OS.

            I do agree that when it comes to permissions KISS is the way to roll, which is why I like the permission system in UNIX much better than NT. Its a much more straight forward approach.

            However this guy was claiming you can just write to the registry or filesystem with impunity. That b-shiat.

            UIs are a discussion for a different time. I don’t agree with your view on some of it, lets just leave it at that for now 😉

        2. Nope, no education on a faulty piecemeal spaghetti OS needed, just a great, functioning more secure OS! Like say Mac OS X! Problem solved. Keep your HKEY_CURRENT_BLAHBLAHBLAH to yourself please. 😉

            1. A good friend of mine praises Bill Gates everyday for job security in the IT industry, and enough money to buy and use Macs at home.

    2. No one is saying it’s invulnerable. It’s not. No software is perfect. We’re saying to look at the empirical evidence. The numbers and experiences don’t lie.

    1. Same for me since 1987. Twelve Macs during that time. I usually donate my old ones to convert pc users. Many of those Macs are still running, trouble free.

  4. Seriously, has anyone in this audience EVER experienced a virus on their Mac? I’m assuming most people on this site use Mac’s in their day-to-day lives. I know I do. I have several and I’ve never seen anything close to a virus, malware, spyware or trojan on any of my machines. And I don’t have ANY virus software installed on any of them. So I’m asking a very simple question here, “Has anyone seen a virus on a Mac?”

    1. You kids today with your virus free Macs!

      Yes, I saw lots of viruses on Macs. However, there hasn’t been a virus released in the wild for OS X.

      Back in the day, we had tons of viruses (peaking with System 6). We ran Disinfectant, and we liked it.

      1. If by tons you mean between 29-35, with half of those being WordWin macro virii, then you are correct.

        If fact, I STILL get documents from Windows users with the Word97Macro virus in the doc.

        Aint MS great??!!

    2. @KO
      No, to answer your question. However, judging from some of the cocky posts here alone, I find it a bit troubling that a growing number of us have been guilty of complacency. No need to heed those desperate trite messages that Apple is Doomed, however, there’s no harm in staying a bit alert either. Keep your Macs updated.

  5. I copped my one and only Mac virus in 1989 when I inserted a contaminated floppy disk into my Mac Plus. I think it was called WDEF32, or something like that. And a bloody nuisance it was too. I had to completely wipe and reinstall everything, taking care not to reinfect the hard drive from backup floppies.

    The lesson was learned, and can be modified for today’s world. As MDN continually reminds us, never install software from untrusted sources.

  6. I remember, way back in the late 1980’s, discovering viruses on floppy disks sent to our service bureau from designers. But I have no recollection of any major problems caused by the viruses we found. Since then, I’ve never seen one; and I see lots of Macs without virus protection that have never had a problem.

    Windows, however, has not been so kind. I encounter one or two Windows PC’s with malware and trojans every week. I’m cleaning a Windows 7 laptop right now.

  7. The last time I had a Mac virus was the late 90s, I was running OS9 and the troublemaker was the MS Office macro virus. Since moving to OSX, I have scanned my hard drives every few years for possible problems and always come up empty.

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