There is real a danger that people think they are secure on the Mac when they aren’t, according to Symantec president of consumer products and solutions Enrique Salem.

Salem spoke with Macworld about how the creators of phishing schemes, which seek to obtain your confidential information, are becoming more sophisticated. “The attacks are much more socially engineered,” he explained. “They are trying to figure out what the user will respond to, and that means it doesn’t matter what computer you are using because whether you are on a Mac or a PC you get email.”

Do people really fall for these phishing emails? According to Salem, “absolutely”. “There have been some recent attacks that look like they are coming from one of your friends saying ‘go check this website out’, and you go to the website and it asks you for your credentials. During the World Cup we were seeing phishing schemes that were saying sign up to be eligible to win tickets to the World Cup, lots of people fell for it,” he said.

“Independent of perceptions of whether a platform is secure or not, socially engineered attacks are platform agnostic. As long as you are using email on a web browser you are going to be vulnerable, and if you use instant messaging that’s another way that people are trying to get onto your computer,” he added.

Salem went to lengths to emphasise the misguided opinion that Macs are safer than PCs. “There’s been a lot of discussion and speculation about whether the Macintosh platform is more secure than the Windows PC platform. Historically the targets have been how do I break onto your computer; how do I break through your Firewall; your antivirus guard. Now it’s less about ‘how do I attach your PC or your Mac’ and more about ‘how do I steal your identity’. Ultimately these threats will work because they are just sending you to a web page. So as long as your browser works it’s going to be functional whatever platform you are on.”

Be confident

To answer this threat, Symantec has developed Norton Confidential, an online transaction security solution that will allow consumers to transact on the internet, confident that their personal information will remain safe. Norton Confidential will be released for the Mac later this year.

“Norton Confidential is all about protecting you online, and protecting your confidential information. We make it possible that when you go to a website you know it is who they say they are. We don’t use a list approach because lists aren’t very effective – phishing sites change very rapidly – instead it does an analysis on the URL structure, the layout of the page, the content of the page, and based on that it is able to identify if it is a phishing site and block you from going through,” explained Salem.

Norton Confidential will block consumers from visiting known or suspected phishing sites. One way Norton Confidential verifies the legitimacy of a genuine website is through presenting the user with a Norton Authentication Trust Mark on the toolbar. The mark indicates that the website was checked. Norton Confidential can also scan a website and block any known crimeware from trying to compromise the user's desktop.

“We have also found that users have lots of different passwords online, so we’ve created something that allows them to manage their passwords. It means that when they connect to a site they don’t have to provide their password at all. It automatically fills out the form for them,” explained Salem.

The software will also block the user from sending confidential information, passwords, or credentials without first authorising it.

Salem has noticed a movement towards the Mac and is concerned about Apple’s positioning of the platform as virtually virus free. He concluded: “As more and more people buy Macs, we could end up in a situation where they think they are protected and they’re not. There is a danger that people could think they are secure on the Mac when they aren’t.”