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03 Jul 2003

Virus writers strictly PC; Macs largely snubbed by cyber underworld, says Sophos

An Apple iMac computer

A report published by Sophos, a world leader in anti-virus protection for businesses, reveals that the vast majority of viruses are ignoring owners of Macintosh computers and targeting PC users instead.

In an analysis of all the viruses reported to its customer support department during the first six months of 2003, Sophos discovered that the most commonly reported virus that could infect Apple Mac computers crept in at a lowly 78th position with a mere 0.16% of all reports.

In comparison, the top ten viruses reported in the first six months of 2003 were all Windows viruses incapable of infecting the Macintosh operating system. Just these ten viruses accounted for a staggering 50.4% of all reports.

"Despite their cool designer looks, Apple Macs are failing to capture interest amongst the counter-culture which writes viruses," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos Anti-Virus. "It's perfectly possible to write viruses for Apple Macs. Indeed, a Mac has no more inherent security when it comes to malware than a PC, but virus writers appear to be motivated by a desire to cause widespread havoc and so have concentrated on the market leader."

Sophos notes that although Mac users are less likely to be infected by a virus than their PC friends and colleagues, they are still at risk of being infected by a Mac-specific virus and affected by the most virulent kind of PC virus - the email-aware worm.

"Mass-mailing worms spread via the internet, forwarding themselves on to every email address they can find," explained Graham Cluley. "Worms don't know when they launch themselves whether they are being sent to an email address belonging to a PC or a Mac user. Many Mac users have found that their email inboxes are being filled up with PC worms which - although can do no harm on the Mac - are a nuisance to delete or may be manually forwarded on to unsuspecting PC colleagues."

Sophos detected and protected against 3,855 newly written viruses in the first six months of 2003. The company now protects its customers against a grand total of 82,870 viruses. The number of viruses being written is on the increase, up 17.5% when compared to the same period last year. However, the majority of viruses breaking into the wild are PC-specific and will not run on Macintosh systems.

Sophos advises all computer users, whether running PCs or Macs, to practise safe computing and keep their anti-virus software updated.

"Mac users shouldn't think it's okay to lie back on their laurels and not worry about viruses - they do exist for Mac computers, and do infect systems on a daily basis. It just doesn't seem to be as large a problem as on PCs," continued Cluley.

Read Sophos's full report on viruses encountered in the first six months of 2003 here.

About Sophos

More than 100 million users in 150 countries rely on Sophos as the best protection against complex threats and data loss. Sophos is committed to providing complete security solutions that are simple to deploy, manage, and use and that deliver the industry's lowest total cost of ownership. Sophos offers award-winning encryption, endpoint security, web, email, mobile and network security solutions backed by SophosLabs - a global network of threat intelligence centers.

Sophos is headquartered in Boston, US and Oxford, UK. More information is available at www.sophos.com.