Apple has been improving security precautions in its Mac OS over the years. Photo: Bloomberg
WITH the Flashback virus having penetrated Mac security, antivirus vendors are rushing in to fill the breach.
While it has long comforted Mac users, Apple's impressive security record made it hard for antivirus vendors to gain a foothold on the computers.
Then Flashback shattered the myth of the impenetrable Mac by sneaking onto more than half a million Macs around the world, including more than 40,000 in Australia.
Flashback is not the first Mac security incident but it is certainly the most significant and one that should make users sit up and take notice. Antivirus vendors have been quick to seize the opportunity to bring Mac users into the fold.
F-Secure, Kaspersky, Symantec, Avast! and Bitdefender were among the antivirus vendors that rushed out free Flashback detection and removal tools. Kaspersky was forced to temporarily take down its Flashback removal tool while it fixed a bug that could accidentally delete some valid user settings.
These free Flashback tools are particularly useful for owners of older Macs who haven't upgraded to newer versions of Mac OS, as Apple is assisting only Mac OS X 10.6 ''Snow Leopard'' and Mac OS X 10.7 ''Lion'' users in dealing with Flashback infections. Apple has left users of Mac OS X 10.5 ''Leopard'' and earlier out in the cold unless they upgrade to a newer OS.
One option for owners of older Macs is to run F-Secure's Flashback Removal Tool (follow the links at f-secure.com) and then disable Java in their browser (tinyurl.com/7jqtpjt) to reduce the chances of infection.
Several of the antivirus vendors offering free Flashback detection and removal tools already sell Mac security software that would protect against Flashback, yet still elected to release free Flashback tools to win favour with Mac users.
Meanwhile, enterprise security vendor Sophos offers free Mac antivirus software for home users, competing against free offerings such as ClamXav and AVG's LinkScanner.
These different Mac security offerings rely on a mix of security measures, similar to Windows security tools. Some detect malicious software running on a Mac, while others protect Macs by checking websites and downloads for potential threats before they infect the computer. Others tweak firewall settings and protect against ''phishing'' attempts to steal your passwords by detecting scammers posing as legitimate websites.
In Apple's defence, it has quietly improved security precautions in Mac OS throughout the years. Perhaps in an effort not to tarnish its reputation, Apple hasn't drawn as much attention to Mac OS's built-in security features as Microsoft has with its monthly Malicious Software Removal Tool and free Microsoft Security Essentials security suite.
Apple introduced a download validation system with Mac OS X 10.4 ''Tiger'' to quarantine files, which was expanded under Leopard. Apple also introduced anti-phishing features into its Safari web browser. With the release of Snow Leopard, Apple enhanced these features to also check downloads against a list of known malware but not to remove malware if it did manage to sneak onto the Mac. Lion builds on these security features by further limiting an installed application's access to the wider operating system, to reduce the damage it can do. Such features complement rather than replace the need for third-party Mac security software.