Posted by: David Harley | November 5, 2015

OS X Malware: an Attack of Nostalgia

Once upon a time (back when I wrote an FAQ document on ‘Viruses and the Macintosh’ (which is still around in cobwebby bits of the internet, but hopelessly outdated), it was actually feasible to list all the Macintosh malware known at that time. In fact, the ‘Pre-OS X malware‘ page on this site is founded on the last version of that document, updated when I still had some control over where it resided.

And for quite a while, the same applied to OS X malware. Not any more. I haven’t actually looked at Bit9’s report 2015 – The Most Prolific Year in History for OS X Malware because it requires registration, but John Leyden’s article for The Register  tells us in summary that ‘This year, there have been 948 OS X malware samples, compared with 180 in the years 2011-14 inclusive.” There’s no need to panic: 90% of 2015 samples analysed by Bit9 and Carbon Black use the version of the Load command superseded in 2012 with the release of OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion).

By comparison, Leyden cites the number of malicious Windows samples as exceeding 20 million ‘even on the more conservative counts’. Well, that isn’t technically incorrect, but would be a ridiculously conservative count: the product testing organization AV-Test claims to have registered 143 million samples in 2014 alone, with well over 120 million registered to date for 2015. The AV-Test page doesn’t break down those numbers by platform, but most of those samples are certainly Windows-targeting, and most of the rest targeting Android, which I’d estimate informally as somewhere between one and two million, perhaps a little more.

Compared to those figures, OS X still looks very peaceful. However, while I didn’t deliberately abandon the list of OS X malware on this page in 2011, I don’t think it would be particularly useful to try to catch up now in the hope of listing all current OS X malware. I’m not at present planning to update the Timeline page either, though that’s more a matter of time management.

David Harley 


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