Macs have long had a reputation as the safest computer choice out there. They might be wrong. According to former NSA staffer Patrick Wardle, Apple's security tools for its OS X operating system aren't all they're cracked up to be.
Apple's built-in mechanisms - Gatekeeper, XProtect anti-malware, sandboxing and kernel code-signing requirements - are "easy to get around" and "trivially exploitable," according to Wardle.
Most anti-virus software for Macs can detect many of the threats out there, but Wardle is worried that Apple is not prepared to defend Macs against more advanced threats from state-sponsored hackers.
During the course of his research Wardle also found a way to circumvent Apple's recent fix for the "rootpipe" privilege escalation vulnerability in OS X. Wardle also coded his own malware to see if a variety of third-party anti-malware utilities could detect it. They all failed.
Wardle also discovered a way to get around OS X's Gatekeeper protection, which would let him to inject malicious code into legitimate downloads.
According to Wardle, Apple could improve security by offering to pay hackers and security researchers who discover security issues and offer solutions. Incentive programs like this are known as "bug bounties."
A bug bounty from Apple - along the lines of schemes introduced by Google, Microsoft and many others - would be beneficial, according to Wardle whose firm Synack would stand to benefit from such a scheme. "Google products have themselves, become more secure because of bug bounties," Wardle said. "Introducing them seems to be a no brainer."
Wardle doesn't have anything against Apple. In fact, he says he likes the company's products and owns both an iPhone and an iPad. He simply wants to make sure that Apple products are secure.