In 10 Days, the Mac Safe Haven Becomes a Botnet Spewing, APT Vulnerable OS
April 19, 2012 Leave a comment
In rapid succession, the IT security world, not to mention the perceived cocoon of safety for Mac users, was rocked by two announcements. On April 4, Russian antivirus company Dr. Web announced that they had discovered a Mac Botnet, called Flashback, and that the bot had infected 600,000 machines. About ten days later, Kaspersky announced the discovery of a backdoor trojan called Backdoor.OSX.SabPub. This attack leverages an exploit that uses malformed Word documents to deliver malware that opens a backdoor that can be used for advanced, persistent attacks. Holy APT Batman! Perceived safety to botnet to advanced persistent threat in 10 days!
Oh the shame. The Mac went from safe haven to botnet spewing, APT exploitable platform tied to three-year old vulnerabilities before our very eyes. As I tweeted, the heads of the Mac fanboys and the APT crew were simultaneously exploding. Mac users were sent to various sites to download software to check their machines for Flashback like common Windows XP users. I could not help but wonder if some enterprising bad guys had set up malware delivery disguised as Flashback checkers – wouldn’t that have been ironic.
I am really just having some fun here. I take no joy in the Mac becoming a target, although it is good for business. I am also not on some war against “smug” Mac owners because I have made the jump myself.
For me, the folklore/mythology of the Mac world as a safe haven from malicious attack reminds me of a scene from the classic movie and personal favorite, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In this scene, Butch and Sundance have fled to Bolivia and have taken a legitimate job guarding the payroll for a mining company. At the beginning of the scene they are riding with the old, hardened mine boss (played perfectly by the great character actor Strother Martin) and begin to argue where the inevitable ambush will occur. The mine boss responds disdainfully: “Morons. I’ve got morons on my team. Nobody is going to rob us going down the mountain. We have got no money going down the mountain. When we have got the money, on the way back, then you can sweat.”
Mac users, I hope you have enjoyed the ride down the mountain. The recent Mac malware news just means that the downward portion is over, and now that there is a critical mass of Macs plugged into the networks and systems where the money lies. It is time for Mac users to sweat.
We could engage in what I am sure will be an animated conversation about the superiority of the Mac OS and the inherent vulnerabilities of Windows, but I contend this was all about opportunity. Sure Windows machines were likely the road of least resistance, but malware writers have proven to be a resilient and industrious bunch and repeatedly rise to find a way around every barrier put in their path. So now that the opportunity has arrived – what the adversary wants is on or accessible via the Mac – the Mac OS barriers will also be breached.
I should point out that Mac users are not finished with their journey into the seedy underbelly of IT security. Not surprisingly, the sales of Mac AV software has gone way up. Wait until the Mac people connect the dots that the same crew that discovered the malware also sells them AV software. Of course, that AV software will at least partially return their cocoon of safety, until they find out that motivated adversaries will drive around their new shiny AV software like a traffic cone on the interstate.
I hope they enjoyed the ride down the mountain.