Mac Virus Could Be Start of Bigger Cyber Attack


Previously Mac computers were thought to be immune from virus attacks, but no computer is now immune, according to a recent New York Times report. The Mac virus infects computers in two ways: by offering a fake Adobe Flash update thereby prompting users to key in their passwords, or more commonly, by using a Java software loophole that downloads malware onto victim’s computers automatically.

The Mac virus is not just a threat to individual computers, but could potentially be a precursor to a larger-scale cyber attack, especially if we look at the effects of previous viruses and malware.

Apple holds 12% (and growing) of the U.S. PC market. It comes as no surprise that Apple computers are increasingly the target of cybersecurity breaches. Apple was previously hit by the Mac Defender virus, which took Apple almost a month to fix when it was discovered in May of last year. Because the cybersecurity sector has less experience in dealing with the Mac Operating System, Mac computers may become easier targets in the future.

Attacks of such nature are not just innocuous viruses that affect the individual consumer, though. The way Stuxnet was spread highlights why this Mac virus may be a national security concern. Stuxnet specifically targeted Windows operating systems (OS) and industrial systems that ran on Windows and Siemens software. It initially spread using infected removable drives, and once it had access to a network of computers, was able to seek out and infect specific industrial-control systems controlled by software from electronics giant Siemens. The same process would affect computers running on the Mac OS.

The effects of Stuxnet also tell us the difficulty of proving culpability when these viruses are used to operationalize malicious attacks. Symantec estimated that 100,000 hosts were infected with Stuxnet globally, with 60% of hosts based in Iran, but the effects stretched as far as India, the U.S., Australia and the UK. Israel is widely believed to have perpetrated the attacks, but Jeffrey Carr also proposes that the worm could have been launched by non-state actors like Greenpeace, French nuclear corporation Areva, or even the Chinese state in an attempt to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program to protect oil exports.

So far the Mac virus still has yet to cause much damage beyond infecting personal computers, but it should be on the radars of officials because it could merely be the means by which a cyberattack can be launched, especially since computers today are effectively ensconced in a network where the virus can easily replicate.