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Kaspersky Lab's Peter Beardmore talks anti-virus and the Mac OS

By John Virata

Kaspersky, developers of anti-virus and security software has just released a version of its anti-virus software for the Macintosh operating system. While the Mac OS is targeted by malware and virus writers significantly less than Microsoft's Windows OS, it still gets attacked, just on a much smaller scale. Digital Media Net spoke with Peter Beardmore, senior product marketing manager, Kaspersky Lab, about viruses, malware, and the Mac OS.

DMN: Compared to the Windows platform, the Mac OS is perceived as a relatively safe platform that is free of viruses and malware. So much so that Apple touts the Mac OS as such in its advertising. How true is this statement?
Peter Beardmore: I wouldn't argue with that statement. Macs are indeed relatively safe platforms, and the amount of malware that infects and damages the Mac operating system is very small (especially when compared to the vast amount of PC-targeted malware).  But there's an important concept to understand: Macs are "safer" but they're not "more secure."   How "safe" you are is the probability that your Mac will be exploited, which is very low. But the Mac operating system itself is not inherently more "secure" than any other operating system.
To an extent, its "security-by-obscurity." Cybercriminals are playing a volume-based game. The more systems they can infect, the more money they make. So naturally, they're going to target the platform that is used by more than 90 percent of the world.  Make no mistake, the Mac operating system can be hacked and exploited by malware, it's just a question of how probable that is to happen to an individual user. The more marketshare Mac gains, the amount of Mac-targeting malware rises, the more likely an infection on your Mac becomes.

Kaspersky now offers anti-virus software for the Mac OS.

DMN: There is the notion that malware can live on a Macintosh computer with no effect on the host at all, but if that Mac is on a network where Windows PCs reside, all havoc can break loose. How does this come to be?
PB:  Macs and PCs have become essentially interoperable. Whenever file-sharing takes place -- over a shared folder on a network, peer-to-peer connection, or sharing documents via a USB drive -- malware sharing can take place as well.

DMN: What kind of viruses can you find on the Internet that are targeted at the Mac operating system? How do they affect the Mac OS?
PB: It is admittedly a very small amount of malware targeting the Mac operating system, especially when compared with PC viruses. But the concepts remain the same. Earlier this year, we saw the first Mac botnet, which was built by a Trojan hidden within pirated copies of Apple iWork. That was an example of social engineering, and a network of Mac machines being brought under control of a malware author. The technology behind Mac-targeted malware is the same as the PC. Mac spyware, Trojans, rootkits, etc., all exhibit the same behaviors and styles of exploitation. The motives behind creating these programs are also the same as well-- they are written by cybercriminals that are trying to make money, usually be stealing your information, or taking over control of your machine.

DMN: The Mac market is less than 10 percent of the overall PC market in the United States. Why even develop anti virus software for the Macintosh?
PB: We consider it a responsibility to protect our customers regardless of what platform they use. Our research suggests that approximately 50 percent of Mac owners also own a PC. So these are the same users we've been trying to protect all along.  We all share the same Internet, regardless of the hardware and software we use, and since protecting Mac machines not only benefits Mac owners, but helps protect PC owners as well, we believe Anti-Virus software for Macs makes perfect sense.

DMN: How can Macintosh users protect their computers from attack?
PB: My obvious answer to this question is to use security software like Kaspersky Lab's new offering.  That's self-serving, but there's a rationale behind it also. The nature of cyber-attacks has shifted over the past few years.  It's now almost entirely Web-based, and a particular type of attack called a drive-by-download essentially hacks a legitimate website, and infects visitors with malware. The key takeaway is that it's become almost impossible to avoid malware with smart browsing habits, like avoiding suspicious websites.  You need something extra to protect you.
Earlier this year, we saw the first Mac botnet, which was built by a Trojan hidden within pirated copies of Apple iWorks. This clearly shows the importance of only downloading legitimate software from reputable sources.
You may have seen Parallels 5.0 was in the headlines yesterday. . . Kaspersky Lab security comes bundled with Parallels to keep data safe when using these virtualization platforms. Make sure the third-party applications on your Mac are updated with the most recent versions or patches. Outdated applications are one of the most popular places for cybercriminals to find a hole in your security.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at [email protected]
Related Keywords:anti-virus, anti-malware, botnets, trojans, mac os x


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