- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2015

Hackers have turned up the heat on Apple, with cyber experts saying attacks against iPhones and other devices sold by the Cupertino, California-based corporation have surged, a new report reveals.

Security researchers at Symantec said last week that they’ve spotted 22 new threats aimed at Mac operating systems since June 2014, up from 17 in the year-and-a-half prior to the start of that span.

During that same 18-month duration, researchers at the Mountain View, California-based security firm said they became aware of nine threats that specifically target the mobile operating system that powers Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices, up from a single threat spotted in the 18 months prior.

While Apple’s operating systems have long been touted as being more secure than ones made by Microsoft, the increase in exploits — coupled with the surging popularity of iPhones and other products — means that potentially millions of devices may be vulnerable to hackers.

“The perception has been for a number of years that Apple computers are safer than Windows,” said Satnam Narang, security specialist at Norton. “The risk is lower for Apple devices, but the risk is still there.”

Nick O’Brien, a senior information developer for Symantec, said that while the total number of threats targeting Apple devices “remains quite low compared to Windows in the desktop space and Android in the mobile sector,” Apple users shouldn’t get lax.

“Should Apple platforms continue to increase in popularity, the number of cybersecurity threats facing Apple users will likely grow in parallel,” he added.

Apple is responsible for about 13.5 percent of the world’s smartphone shipments and 7.5 percent of the PCs on the planet, according to analysts at IDC, and hackers have anything but ignored the company’s reach, experts said.

In the first nine months of 2015, the number of unique Apple computers infected with malware was seven times higher than in all of 2014, Symantec determined.

“This increase in usage has not gone unnoticed by attackers. A rising number of threat actors have begun developing specific malware designed to infect devices running OS X or iOS,” the Symantec researchers wrote in the report.

Symantec reported that the number of exploits targeting Mac OS X increased 15 percent year on year in 2014, and had spiked by nearly double in 2013.

But as iPhones and other Apple devices become more ubiquitous — United Airlines said this month that more than 6,000 service reps will begin using an iPhone 6 Plus to assist with flight arrangements — the potential dangers become increasingly evident.

In September, Zerodium, a company which brokers exploits between hackers and government agencies, offered $1 million for an attack capable of compromising an iPhone running Apple’s newest operating system.

Morgan Stanley, meanwhile, said this week that it expect Apple will see its first-ever decline in iPhones sales next year after shattering sales records in 2015.

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