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Popularity of Apple devices prompts surge of new threats

Symantec | Dec. 22, 2015
Apple users can no longer be complacent about security, as the number of infections and new threats rises.

A growing number of attackers have begun to target Apple operating systems, with the amount of infections and new malware threats increasing over the past two years. The number of new Mac OS X threats rose by 15 percent in 2014, while the number of iOS threats discovered this year has more than doubled, from three in 2014 to seven in 2015. Jailbroken devices are the focus of the majority of threats and, of the 13 iOS threats documented by Symantec to date, nine can only infect jailbroken devices.

While the total number of threats targeting Apple devices remains quite low compared to Windows in the desktop space and Android in the mobile sector, Apple users cannot be complacent. Should Apple platforms continue to increase in popularity, the number of cybersecurity threats facing Apple users will likely grow in parallel.

As outlined in the newly published Symantec whitepaper, the range of threats affecting Apple devices has multiplied. These threats span from ordinary cybercrime gangs branching out and porting their threats to Apple platforms, right up to high level attacker groups developing custom Mac OS X and iOS malware. Examples of the latter include the Butterfly corporate espionage group infecting OS X computers in targeted organizations and the Operation Pawnstorm APT group creating malware capable of infecting iOS devices.

A spike in Mac OS X threats

The number of new Mac OS X threats emerging is increasing year-on-year, rising by 15 percent in 2014. This followed an increase of 44 percent in 2013 and an increase of 29 percent in 2012.

Figure 1. Number of new OS X threats documented by Symantec by year

In tandem with this rise, the number of Mac computers hit by malware infections has increased enormously over the past year. The number of unique OS X computers infected with malware in the first nine months of 2015 alone was seven times higher than in all of 2014.

Figure 2. Malware infections on unique computers running OS X from January 2014

While the number of infections on OS X computers has increased dramatically over the past year, a significant amount of this spike has been accounted for by grayware, such as adware, potentially unwanted or misleading applications.

While these grayware infections accounted for much of the surge in infections between June 2014 and March 2015, recent months have seen a significant uptick in infections involving other forms of malware.

Figure 3. While malware threats are less prevalent, their infections can be more damaging.


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