Sophos: 20% of Macs harbor Windows malware

By on April 24, 2012, 6:00 PM

Although folks are currently fixated on the Flashback botnet, Sophos draws attention to the fact that one in five Macs harbors some kind of Windows-oriented malware. The company gathered results over seven days from 100,000 Apple machines using its free antivirus program and 20% had one or more instances of Windows malware.

Sophos previously warned of this phenomenon. Last year, it tested 50 USB drives lost in public. Two thirds (33) were infected, including seven seemingly owned by Mac users. Naturally, Windows malware can't affect OS X, but Macs can infect PCs, so Windows users should still keep their guard up when accepting data from Mac users.

In the latest study, Sophos found that only 2.7% of the infected Macs contain malware actually harmful to them, with 75% of it being Flashback variants. Of the 20% harboring Windows malware, 12.2% carry Bredo, a three-year-old Trojan. Sophos notes that some machines contain malware samples dating back as far as 2007.

"Although most of the malware we're currently seeing on Macs is designed to infect Windows, you should still be a responsible member of society and ensure that you're keeping your Mac squeaky clean. Currently, Mac users are doing a pretty poor job on that front," the outfit said before offering a handful of common sense tips:

  • Run an anti-virus program, and make sure it's kept up-to-date.
  • Keep your security patches up-to-dated - not just for your operating system, but also for programs which you run on your Mac
  • Exercise caution about the programs you install, the links you click on and the attachments you open
  • Keep your wits about you and stay informed! If you keep clued-up about security threats you are less likely to be tricked by a cybercriminal into making a poor decision.



User Comments: 22

Got something to say? Post a comment
Darkshadoe Darkshadoe said:

Why is this surprising? Windows has been the dominate OS for the past 25-30 years. Of course there are going to be a metric poop ton of viruses written for it. As Mac becomes more mainstream, it will get it's fair share as well. It does not make sense to code a virus for a piece of software very few people use.

davislane1 davislane1 said:

@Darkshadoe

I completely agree. Unfortunately, I doubt that most Mac users will start taking appropriate action until the proliferation of OSX bugs really starts gaining momentum. If Windows is any example (and it is), mainstream coding for Mac viruses will hit average Apple customers like a ton of bricks, what with repair & replacement costs.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

From what I've read on the computer forums I frequent, the Mac users that post there are generally dismissive of the problem once they find out they aren't going to be hurt by it. A very vocal minority is actually happy that their computer will infect other Windows computer while leaving their computer unscathed.

Justin Long has yet to comment however.

davislane1 davislane1 said:

A very vocal minority is actually happy that their computer will infect other Windows computer while leaving their computer unscathed.

Brand zealots have always had a reputation for being paragons of maturity. Must be quite the burden...

madboyv1, TechSpot Paladin, said:

When I worked at a University setting up computers for new students, I always suggested/advised new Mac users to install some kind of antivirus software on their systems. Basically a "don't be part of the problem" mini lecture, especially since that university was something like 15% Mac systems. That's a fairly large portion of users to be possibly harboring and spreading viruses to other computers (even if they are not infected by them).

Some didn't, some did. *shrug*

Guest said:

@davislane 1

That's why it's so scary to lose all rational thoughts, especially to a product. The reason why zealots get so furious and angry is because you're not only "attacking" (educating them about computer viruses/malware and how to avoid it), but you're also attacking their identity as a person. They identify so much with what Apple has sold them, as in brand loyalty and unwavering trust, that they will defend to their death of such blasphemy. Intriguing what a great marketing team can do with perception and at the same time sad, that while as an individual people are smart, but as a group are dumb as a flock of sheeps.

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

@Darkshadoe

I completely agree. Unfortunately, I doubt that most Mac users will start taking appropriate action until the proliferation of OSX bugs really starts gaining momentum. If Windows is any example (and it is), mainstream coding for Mac viruses will hit average Apple customers like a ton of bricks, what with repair & replacement costs.

I'm going to address your post, but at the same time acknowledge the posts between yours and mine because they all are related.

I spend about 50% of my time in front of a computer in front of a Mac, 49% of the remaining time on a Windows machine, and 1% of the time on a FreeBSD box. So, while I don't intend to speak for the "Mac community", I do think I am qualified to state my opinion.

I do not think it is any duty of mine to have to protect other PC users from their own malware. Perhaps its for the greater good that I do, but it comes at the expense of my system resources (however plentiful they may be), and I don't want that. I have my own Windows systems with their own anti malware measures in place, I let those machines defend themselves. They don't need my Macs to help them defend themselves.

Guest said:

That Windows malware sitting on the Mac harddrive is just waiting for its opportunity to suddenly "execute" in OSX when it sees a Windows machine in its vicinity. NOT.:p

Malware can only be defined as such if it is in a position to harm its host. In truth, those Macs contain NO malware because it is indeed harmless to the mac.

Don't believe everything you read. It is apparent from the comments that the only infection here is in your brains. It's enough to make me want to go Mac. NOT. ;)

BTW, Malware includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, adware, rootkits, and other. A HUGE field of possibilities.

The ignorance displayed on this forum could easily be construed as a form of human malware.

Finally, an anti-zealot is just another form of zealot. Equally as narrow minded.

madboyv1, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I do not think it is any duty of mine to have to protect other PC users from their own malware. Perhaps its for the greater good that I do, but it comes at the expense of my system resources (however plentiful they may be), and I don't want that. I have my own Windows systems with their own anti malware measures in place, I let those machines defend themselves. They don't need my Macs to help them defend themselves.

Ultimately, I do agree with what you say. I ~personally~ would not expect anyone to do anything that might benefit someone else, especially given the circumstances and the lack of any direct consequences. I only suggested it to the mac users and told all the PC users to install a decent antivirus (and get rid of that PoS McAfee at the same time, which was being bundled to everything) and to "beware of any files coming from ANYONE, you never know~" =)

Either way, I was more or less told to tell/suggest/warn them, and the university had it's own policies regarding network security. *shrug*

davislane1 davislane1 said:

I do not think it is any duty of mine to have to protect other PC users from their own malware. Perhaps its for the greater good that I do, but it comes at the expense of my system resources (however plentiful they may be), and I don't want that. I have my own Windows systems with their own anti malware measures in place, I let those machines defend themselves. They don't need my Macs to help them defend themselves.

I don't think that this is in dispute. My response to the OP was in reference to the segment of Apple's consumer base that are still sold on the idea that Macs are virtually invulnerable and who lack the computer literacy to perform routine maintenance. In my personal experience, this encompasses a lot of people. As such, when OSX begins experiencing in the future what Windows experiences now as it relates to the matter, I would expect a lot of people to flock to Apple Stores for solutions, much like people do with Geek Squad & similar services. However, stating that this is applicable to "most Mac users" was probably too far reaching. In any event, I certainly agree with your argument.

As for the guest going on about ignorance and anti-zealotry...

Firstly, malware is malware. Whether or not it poses any threat to the host machine is completely irrelevant, as it still retains its defining characteristics & functions. Suggesting that it isn't actually malware because it doesn't attack a system it isn't designed to attack is fallacious. For instance, the plague didn't intermittently cease to be the plague when fleas were in transit between hosts. Nor does a piece of candy cease to be a "sweet" if you give it to a kid born without taste buds. Likewise, malware doesn't cease to be malware simply because it's inert on a system it isn't targeting.

Secondly... Where's the "anti" zealotism?

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I do not think it is any duty of mine to have to protect other PC users from their own malware. Perhaps its for the greater good that I do, but it comes at the expense of my system resources (however plentiful they may be), and I don't want that. I have my own Windows systems with their own anti malware measures in place, I let those machines defend themselves. They don't need my Macs to help them defend themselves.

Its not your duty, but eventually there will be a piece of malware for the Mac which will affect you. And not having any security measures in place your system will be open to being damaged, and you will pass on the virus to other Mac users.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

As for the guest going on about ignorance and anti-zealotry...

Firstly, malware is malware. Whether or not it poses any threat to the host machine is completely irrelevant, as it still retains its defining characteristics & functions. Suggesting that it isn't actually malware because it doesn't attack a system it isn't designed to attack is fallacious. For instance, the plague didn't intermittently cease to be the plague when fleas were in transit between hosts. Nor does a piece of candy cease to be a "sweet" if you give it to a kid born without taste buds. Likewise, malware doesn't cease to be malware simply because it's inert on a system it isn't targeting.

Secondly... Where's the "anti" zealotism?

You never know, Guest might be the first person to remove a piece of malware from a computer solely be engaging it in didactic dialogue.

Doctor John Doctor John said:

Having read the above, I take it there's no chance of Macs being secured against Windows malware as a goodwill gesture?

Ultraman1966 said:

Oh but Macs never get viruses... *cough* Seriously, I hear that from a lot of people who aren't tech savvy. They will moan about their PCs which are usually low spec and out of date and laud about the Mac... if you paid Mac (Apple) money for a laptop/desktop then you'll get something decent too. Anyway, that's a different issue... so now Mac users can get used to all the AV and patching business that we do have...w00t!

Guest said:

Guest is completely correct (though the disparaging remarks can be omitted). Regardless of original intent, if an object residing on the computer in question is harmless to it then in this context the object can not be called malware.

To our family my cat is beautiful and harmless. To a mouse it is the harbinger of a most agonizing and painful death. It is not the cat, it is the context.

Context is everything. Losing sight of this is the primary reason for most conflicts, micro and macro.

Sophos could be accused of spreading FUD for personal gain.

Guest is also correct in stating that any view we vocalize that we have a strong attachment to (for or against) is a form of zealotry.

2 people like this | gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Guest is completely correct (though the disparaging remarks can be omitted). Regardless of original intent, if an object residing on the computer in question is harmless to it then in this context the object can not be called malware.

To our family my cat is beautiful and harmless. To a mouse it is the harbinger of a most agonizing and painful death. It is not the cat, it is the context.

Context is everything. Losing sight of this is the primary reason for most conflicts, micro and macro.

You're so off base. What you're failing to grasp in your analogy is the inherent purpose of a cat. The purpose of a cat, in your particular situation, is to be a pet. The fact that it is a terror to mice, is incidental to it being a pet.

A piece of malware has no other purpose than to be malware. The fact that it has no effect on you does not change its nature. The fact that it can propagate itself to other computers and cause harm further confirms that its nature is inherently malicious.

If this Mac malware was only capable of being passed on to other Mac computers, and it was 100% unable to affect those computers, then your analogy of it NOT being malware is correct. But as it is still capable of being spread to Windows computers, that means that its inherent nature has not changed, it just happens not to affect your computer. So it is still malware.

This is science, not philosophy.

Guest said:

The great thing about Mac users is they are treated like a customer by apple:

Rule 1: The customer is never wrong.

Rule 2: If the customer is wrong , see rule number 1

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

The great thing about Mac users is they are treated like a customer by apple:

Rule 1: The customer is never wrong.

Rule 2: If the customer is wrong , see rule number 1

[link]

davislane1 davislane1 said:

The great thing about Mac users is they are treated like a customer by apple:

Rule 1: The customer is never wrong.

Rule 2: If the customer is wrong , see rule number 1

[link]

Game, set, match.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Anyone who knowingly stores malicious code on their machine without any intentions of removing it are no better than those who created the code. As a Mac user, it may not be your job to help Windows users keep their machines clean. That does not mean you shouldn't care less whether Windows machines are contaminated from code off of your Mac.

There is such a thing as being an accessory whether voluntary or not.

1 person liked this | SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

cliff - is there evidence of malware actively jumping from a Mac to Windows either over flash drives or a network? I've read several posts in this thread that seem to indicate that is happening. I don't think it is, is it?

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

cliff - is there evidence of malware actively jumping from a Mac to Windows either over flash drives or a network? I've read several posts in this thread that seem to indicate that is happening. I don't think it is, is it?

Interesting question, if this is not actually a problem then the article in itself is pointless.

Load all comments...

Add New Comment

TechSpot Members
Login or sign up for free,
it takes about 30 seconds.
You may also...
Get complete access to the TechSpot community. Join thousands of technology enthusiasts that contribute and share knowledge in our forum. Get a private inbox, upload your own photo gallery and more.