Apple confirms cyber attack on its employees

One of the things that Macintosh users have always lorded over Windows ones is that Macs don’t get viruses and are rarely the target of spyware or malware.

It looks like those days will soon be in the past, if not already, as Apple announced on Tuesday that some of its employee’s computers had been targeted by hackers who originated in China.

Most of the more knowledgeable Mac users, from what I’ve read over the years, knew that it was only a matter of time. Macs have always lagged far behind Windows users in sheer numbers. Those that create viruses and the like are looking for large numbers of computers to infect…and since there are far more Windows users, it’s always made much more sense to target them.

But knowadays, Macs have a more solid place in the computer world…even if the platform is still being outsold 30 to 1 at present. The point is, in 2004 PCs were outselling Macs 60 to 1…and the numbers difference has been narrowing every year since.

So, put all this together and it’s pretty obvious that it was just a matter of time before the Mac became a target as well. If you’re an Apple user, this is the price you pay for becoming more popular.

I’ve been using antivirus/malware/spyware software on my Mac for years, even way before viruses were known to exist for it. For one, I didn’t want to accidentally pass on virus-laden emails to friends on PCs. Well, last year’s Flashback virus proved that no Mac is safe, and it was time to take real protective measures.

Here’s an excerpt from the Macworld.com story:

The words “Apple” and “security breach” don’t often appear together, but on Tuesday the company said that some computers belonging to its employees had been targeted by hackers originating from China—the same group, reportedly, that last week infiltrated computers belonging to Facebook employees. The story was first reported by Reuters.

In an email, Apple provided Macworld with a statement on the breach, saying:

Apple has identified malware which infected a limited number of Mac systems through a vulnerability in the Java plug-in for browsers. The malware was employed in an attack against Apple and other companies, and was spread through a website for software developers. We identified a small number of systems within Apple that were infected and isolated them from our network. There is no evidence that any data left Apple. We are working closely with law enforcement to find the source of the malware.

Since OS X Lion, Macs have shipped without Java installed, and as an added security measure OS X automatically disables Java if it has been unused for 35 days. To protect Mac users that have installed Java, today we are releasing an updated Java malware removal tool that will check Mac systems and remove this malware if found.

True to its word, Apple released a Java update late on Tuesday for Mac OS X 10.7 or later that patches a number of security vulnerabilities as well as scanning for the most common variants of the malware in question and removing them. If malware is found, the user will be notified of its removal.

The patch also updates Apple’s provided version of Java to 1.6.0_41; the update is available by choosing Software Update from the Apple menu or visiting the Mac App Store and clicking on Updates. Snow Leopard users can check Software Update or download Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 13, which patches the same vulnerability.

In line with the company’s recent policy on Java, these downloads will disable Apple’s built-in Java plugin; users who try to run applets in their browser will instead be prompted to download the latest version of the Java plug-in from Oracle. One additional casualty this time around, for 10.7 and later, is the Java Preferences app that usually lives in OS X’s Utilities folder—Apple says it’s no longer necessary for configuration.

Apple is only the latest target in a recent spate of cyber attacks that have hit institutions like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal along with tech companies like Facebook and Twitter; most of those attacks have been traced back to China. The attack on Facebook, in particular, appears to have been committed via the same Java vulnerability as the Apple breach.

PC users, you can stop snickering any time now.

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