The latest Mac malware attack should finally put to rest the long-discredited claim by some Mac fans that OS X is invulnerable to attacks. But it also raises this question: Are Macs less safe than Windows PCs, particularly those running Windows 8?
Apple has admitted that Macs inside the company were recently victimized by a malware attack. They were hacked in a drive-by Java exploit. In response, Apple patched the security hole in older systems vulnerable to the attack, and also released a tool to detect the malware.
Apple said in a statement about the attack:
"We identified a small number of systems within Apple that were infected and isolated them from our network. There is no evidence that any data left Apple."
This is far from the first time security holes have been revealed in the Mac. For example, in June 2012, the Flashback trojan infected more than 600,000 Macs. And as far back as 2008, in the "Pwn to Own" challenge, Mac's security was breached faster than a Vista PC or a Ubuntu machine -- it took less than two minutes for someone to break in. And in 2007, security researcher Dino Dai Zovi told Computerworld that Vista is safer than Mac OS X:
"I have found the code quality, at least in terms of security, to be much better overall in Vista than Mac OS X 10.4. It is obvious from observing affected components in security patches that Microsoft's Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) has resulted in fewer vulnerabilities in newly-written code. I hope that more software vendors follow their lead in developing proactive software security development methodologies."
Security researchers have been saying the same thing about Windows 7 and Windows 8 -- both are more secure than Mac OS X. Security expert Alex Stamos of iSec Partners, for example, said at the Black Hat Conference in August 2011 that Mac OS X was "significantly more vulnerable" than Windows 7 to network-based attacks.
And right after the release of Windows 8, Gunter Ollmann, vice president of research at security company Damballa told SearchSecurity that "Windows 8 is the most secure operating system on the market today."
All this is why the latest Mac security hole should surprise no one except the Mac lovers who refuse to admit the truth -- Mac OS X, like every other operating system, is vulnerable to attack. And there are plenty of security researchers who think it's less secure than Windows.