Even when the Samba open source community has created a fix for a known security issue, it often takes Apple three to four months to introduce a related patch for its products, giving any attackers looking to subvert Mac systems a lengthy window of opportunity to do so, Maynor maintained.
"If someone has a list of these open source security issues in the projects included in Mac OS, they could use that against OS X users," said Maynor. "Samba is a perfect example, as there is generally a large window there."
A rise in underground malware activity
Maynor said that he observed an increase in Apple-related activity in the underground malware research community last year around several previous QuickTime vulnerabilities.
"It's not that the number of Mac vulnerabilities is rising. If you look at their own security archives, you'll see that there were always a lot that were reported, but no one cared in the past," Maynor said. "One of the problems is that a lot of users buy into the misconception that Mac OS is more secure because of Apple's development process, but that's not really the case. Some people also feel that they are protected by Apple's smaller market share, but with more of these computers out there, more attention is being paid to it."
According to officials with Lumension, a software vendor that specializes in vulnerability scanning and patching, Mac OS has actually had far more security flaws reported in the last year than Microsoft Windows. Don Leatham, director of solutions and strategy at Lumension, formerly known as PatchLink, said that Mac OS X had nearly five times as many vulnerabilities reported than Windows during 2007. He noted, however, that many of those issues were considered minor, and that the Microsoft Windows security problems were notably more critical.
But Leatham agreed that publicly reported holes in Mac OS products tend to stay unaddressed longer than their Windows counterparts. "It's not always about the sheer number of exploits anyways; it's more about the speed at which real exploits are being created. That's what people will need to be worried about going forward," Leatham said. "If you get to the point where you have professional malware development kits being sold on the underground, as we have today for Windows, that's when there could be real problems for Mac. But we haven't seen any of those just yet."
Leatham added that, as with other mobile devices, Apple's iPhone has yet to see any truly dangerous malware attacks. However, when Apple releases its mobile applications development toolkit for the handhelds in February, he said it will be interesting to see if anyone tries to take advantage of the package to aim new threats at the phones.
"It would obviously still be a bigger deal if someone created a successful attack that targeted the Research in Motion BlackBerry platform, because those are the devices of choice in most businesses, but with 4 million devices sold by Apple, some of these handhelds are already finding their way into the enterprise," said Leatham. "iPhone has been considered very safe thus far because of Apple's rigorous applications white-listing approach, but we'll be curious to see the security features open to developers in the new toolkit and whether it will attract the interest of any malware writers."