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Apple virus message tweak sparks vulnerability debate

Anti-virus companies play up breaches but analysts urge scepticism

A change to the message about virus vulnerability on Apple's website has sparked widespread debate over whether the manufacturer has made a tacit statement about potential dangers to the users of its machines.

Until recently, Apple had always proudly displayed a message proclaiming that its Mac machine family "Doesn't get PC viruses." Now, that message has been replaced with one that simply states that the hardware is "Built to be safe."

Predictably, the New York Times reports, antivirus manufacturers have pounced on this as a way to open up a valuable new market of paranoid users, whilst many analysts have pointed out that, whilst Apple Macs are no longer considered invulnerable, they're still far less likely to contract a virus.

The change comes after a recent spate of infections from a piece of malware known as Flashback, which hit half a million Macs last April, worming its way into systems via a vulnerability in Java software which required no clicking of links or confirmations to install.

Whilst that infection was quickly controlled with a simple patch, cutting infected numbers by over two thirds in a fortnight, public perception of Apple's claims of immunity was damaged. Apple's new statement is thought to be the first step in an increasing acceptance of the danger of malicious code to its users.

"I view the changes in the messages pushed out by their marketing department as some important baby-steps," said anti-virus manufacturer Sophos' Graham Cluley. "Let's hope more Apple Mac owners are also learning to take important security steps - such as installing antivirus protection."

Rich Mogull, founder of Securosis, disagrees.

"Two issues in two years is relatively minor compared with what happens in the Windows world,"Mogull tld the NYT. "Antivirus companies, in particular, can be pretty deceptive. They have been marketing Apple's immunity far more than Apple has and they are far more vulnerable. I no longer put stock in it."

A large part of the reason that Apple had for so long been untroubled by viruses was its relatively small market share. PCs were simply a bigger target. Now, with Apple's numbers skyrocketing, hackers' attentions are being increasingly turned toward it.

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