Mac malware – were we wrong?

There was a web firestorm yesterday over an apparent warning from Apple that its users could be vulnerable to attack and should consider installing anti-virus software. It was a firestorm that we helped to fan with a story – and a post on this blog.

Now it appears that the story was old and that the message on the Apple support site, posted on 21 November, may have simply been an update of an advisory note published back in 2007. What’s more, the November message has now been removed – with no explanation.

So I’m sorry if we suggested that this was a major U-turn by Apple when it was not. Graham Cluley, who we quoted in the post, now describes the incident as “a fascinating example of how the internet can get carried away with itself”, and it is certainly true that bloggers and journalists (and I include myself) hate to be left out when this kind of storm brews up.

But Mr Cluley stands by his view that Mac users should not be complacent about their security: “Yes, the news that Apple is urging people to run anti-virus software isn’t actually news… apart from for the people who didn’t realise they had to run anti-virus software on their Apple Macs! – which seems to be quite a lot”. It is worth noting that Mr Cluley’s firm Sophos sells an anti-virus package for Macs and is presumably keen to boost its sales. I have to confess, as someone who has used both Macs and PCs for the last 12 years, that I have never installed any extra security on my Macs, and I’m still not convinved that I need to act.

And one thing that this incident does show is Apple’s split personality when it comes to communicating with its users and with the media. On the one hand, when it has a positive story to tell, it is brilliant at sending simple, bold messages to consumers and skilful in projecting its case to the media.

On the other, when things go wrong – complaints about scratched iPods or concerns about Steve Jobs’ health – this is a company which retreats into the Cupertino bunker, closes the door and says nothing.

So I contacted the Apple PR department at 1115 GMT on Tuesday to seek a comment on the story. Back they came twenty minutes later, with a promise to look into it and “keep you posted”. 23 hours later, I’m still waiting. So what is Apple’s advice to customers on whether there is any need to install anti-virus software? I’m still not clear – are you?

Leave a Reply