Yet another internet security firm has issued warnings that Mac-affecting malware attacks may be on the rise.

McAfee AVERT Labs has released an in-depth report - 'The New Apple of Malware's Eye: Is Mac OS X the Next Windows?' - that looks at the current environment and predicts more activity in the Mac malware space. It claims that: "Malware attacks targeting Mac OS X are on the rise."

As reasons for malware developers to target the platform, it points to Apple's move to Intel processors and its current US TV ad campaign, which touts the Mac's relative proof against viruses.

The security firm, which publishes a wide range of malware protection packages for computers, reckons there's a growing threat. It claims that Mac platform vulnerability discovery rates, have increased by 228 per cent in the past three years alone, from 45 found in 2003 to 143 in 2005. It also today released a new version of its anti-malware tools for Intel Macs.

Percentages mask the Windows threat

"Many believe that using a Mac is a form of security in itself, believing that they are far less susceptible to malware than Windows users," said Stuart McClure, senior vice president, global threats at McAfee. "And while the threats targeting the Mac operating system are low in volume, the use of Apple products does not provide an invisibility cloak from malware, and users need to be more vigilant about security as adoption rates soar and attacks on Apple operating systems increase."

The researchers pointed out that malware threats against Microsoft platforms have increased by 73 per cent in contrast to the Macs 228 per cent in the last three years. Of course, this percentage figure ignores the sheer number of existing Windows threats in comparison to the drought-stricken trickle of Mac-affecting virii.

McAfee joins the SANS Institute in offering a back-handed compliment to the company, observing: "Apple's success with consumer products and its resulting higher profile will entice security researchers and hackers to target Mac OS and other Apple products, such as iTunes and iPods."
'Don't be complacent'

McAfee's main message is nowhere near as alarmist as that of the SANS Institute. While the latter's "experts" accused that Apple's reputation for security was "in tatters", McAfee simply warns that Mac users "should not be complacent about their security". 

"Apple appears to be in the earlier stages of malware evolution, where exploits are written and spread as proofs-of-concept to demonstrate authors' technical prowess and to garner notoriety," the researchers said. They predict that hackers will begin to devote more attention to the platform in future.

McAfee believes that this incentive, coupled with the easy availability of Mac exploit code on the internet, will make the Mac an open target for malware. They expect that the claimed "growing number" of Mac vulnerabilities will attract more and more talented hackers in future.

Why not buy stuff?

Of course, McAfee has a solution all ready to roll. Today the company announced the introduction of anti-virus support for Intel-based Macs, McAfee VirusScan for Mactel 8.0.

The software runs using Rosetta to help protect Macs against malware. It detects, blocks and cleans infected emails and attachments. It's available now.