As Apple’s popularity grows, so do cyber threats
Published: Monday, March 22, 2010
Updated: Monday, March 22, 2010 23:03
As Apple computers have become more popular across college campuses, threats of viruses and other infections typically thought of as being reserved for PCs are also being noticed.
Since the first virus for the Mac OS X operating system was discovered in 2006, the prevalence of malware and viruses for the system have increased along with the system's popularity. Many users are unaware of the threats they face, according to Mike Cooper, program coordinator for the Technology Support Center at West Virginia University's Office of Information Technology.
"People don't think their Macs can get viruses," Cooper said. "This year, the first 10 systems we had to remove from the network in the residence halls because of viruses were Macs."
Cooper said the number of students using Macs at WVU has nearly doubled over the last few years.
He fears that while the amount of threats have increased, most users still don't think their computers are at risk and don't have the appropriate virus protection software.
Last year, Mac systems began being attacked by the Botnet Trojan, malware similar to the kind that affects Windows. This Trojan has been found in pirated copies of Adobe Photoshop for Mac and iWork 09 and will allow the originator to remotely control an infected system to obtain personal or sensitive information.
Because these kinds of malware are often found in pirated software, individuals who use peer-to-peer downloading programs put themselves at greater risk.
"My hard drive crashed once, but I backed it up and replaced it, (which was) probably cheaper than buying software," said J.J. Nicholas, a junior advertising major and Mac user.
Nicholas does not have anti-virus software, saying he relies on the relative rarity of cyber threats for Macs.
"As long as you are careful (about) what you download and do a little research about the programs you put on, I have yet to meet a person with a virus," he said.
Because Windows operating systems still dominate the market, a majority of malware, viruses and worms still target Microsoft's platform, though experts urge Mac users not to become overly confident in their immunity to online threats.
"Apple products are excellent products," Cooper said.
He just advises that students who use Macs exercise the same caution they would if they were on a PC, as the days of the carefree Mac user has fallen by the wayside.
The Department of Statistics, graphic design program and Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism at WVU use Macs.
Michael Starling, technology coordinator at the School of Journalism, said the School uses Macs because "they are the industry standard for journalism and graphic design."
Though he acknowledged there may be some "real world" reasons they are less prone to online threats, officials take the same precautions with Macs as they would with any system.
"Anything can be attacked if someone really wanted to do it," he said.