Apple’s head of software says current level of Mac malware is not acceptable

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Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President Software Engineering speaks during Apple’s annual world wide developer conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, U.S. June 5, 2017.

Stephen Lam | Reuters

Apple’s head of software, Craig Federighi, said in court on Wednesday that Apple is not pleased with the amount of harmful software, or malware, on its operating system for Mac computers, MacOS.

Federighi said the ability Apple gives users to install software from the internet on Mac computers is “regularly exploited” and that the iPhone’s operating system, iOS, has a “dramatically higher bar” for customer protection.

“Today, we have a level of malware on the Mac that we don’t find acceptable and that is much worse than iOS,” Federighi testified in the Epic Games v. Apple trial.

The difference between iPhone and Mac security is important in the trial because Epic Games is seeking to force Apple to allow it to install alternative app stores, which are permitted on Mac computers, on iPhones.

Epic Games argues that Apple can easily apply Mac software installation policies and security mechanisms to iPhones, while Apple says its App Store review process and rules keep users secure.

On Wednesday, Federighi said that the user base of the Mac is about one-tenth the user base of the iPhone. Apple said in January that it had 1 billion active iPhone users.

“For iOS, we aspired to create something far more secure. All indications are that we have succeeded in doing so,” Federighi said. He said that Apple found and removed about 130 different kinds of malware on Macs last year that had infected hundreds of thousands of user systems, compared with three kinds of malware that had infected iPhones.

“I have a couple family members who’ve gotten some malware on the Mac, but ultimately I think the Mac can be operated safely,” Federighi said.

Federighi’s admission was prompted by a question from Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who will decide what action to take in the coming weeks or months. The trial is scheduled to end next Monday after three weeks.

Apple customers have long wondered if the company was considering merging its Mac desktops and iPad tablets, which run a version of iOS. Apple’s latest Mac computer uses the same processor as its high-end iPads.

Federighi subsequently provided a metaphor that suggests that Apple still sees them as separate products. For example, software developers still use Macs because they can install development tools, such as Xcode, and access the guts of the computer — including installing unauthorized software.

“I think of it as the Mac is the car, you can take it off road if you want, you can drive wherever you want. As that comes as a driver, you’ve got to be trained, there’s a certain level of responsibility to doing that. But that’s what you wanted to buy, you wanted to buy a car,” Federighi said. “With iOS, you’re able to create something where children, even infants, can operate an iOS device and be safe in doing so. Really different products.”

A recent report from Nokia cited by Federighi said that iOS devices accounted for 1.72% of mobile malware infections, compared with 26.64% for Android and 38.92% for Windows.

“Android still has a considerable malware problem,” Federighi said. “Something like 50 times the malware of iOS.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook is scheduled to testify in the trial on Friday.

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