Apple the target of more security threats: Report

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Viruses and security threats targeting Apple products have spiked in the past 18 months, a new study said Tuesday.

There were 22 threats targeting the Mac operating system since June 2014, up from 17 in the 18 months prior, according to Symantec, the information protection company behind Norton AntiVirus and other products.

And there were nine threats targeting iPhone operating system iOS, up from one in the 18 months prior, Symantec found in a new white paper called “The Apple Threat Landscape.”

Not only were there more threats, but the number of users affected by the threats is on the rise, Symantec said. The number of unique Mac OS X computers infected with malware in the first nine months of 2015 alone was seven times higher than in all of 2014, according to the report.

“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.”

To be sure, Apple users still experience few, and less severe, overall threats than competitors such as Microsoft‘s Windows system or Google‘s Android phones.

But if Symantec’s research is any indication, there is an overall upward trend in malware targeting Apple devices: The number of new Mac OS X threats increased 15 percent year on year in 2014, compared with an increase of 44 percent in 2013 and an increase of 29 percent in 2012.

Apple devices have surged in popularity in the past few years. But in the process, they occasionally made headlines with recent high-profile attacks: In September, Apple removed apps from its store after finding malicious code downloaded from Chinese servers, Reuters reported.

A significant amount of Apple threats is due to “nuisance applications” like adware, rather than more malicious “malcode” like back doors or Trojan viruses. But in recent months, malware, too, has seen an uptick, the report said.

Still, Apple devices offer several unique backstops, according to the report. Features like file quarantines, Gatekeeper and the “walled garden” of the App store all provide an increased level of security, Symantec said.

— CNBC’s Jennifer Schlesinger and Reuters contributed to this report.

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