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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006, 06:20 GMT 07:20 UK
Threats prompt Mac switch advice
Trojans now outnumber viruses and worms four to one
Security threats to PCs with Microsoft Windows have increased so much that computer users should consider using a Mac, says a leading security firm.

Sophos security said that the 10 most commonly found pieces of malicious software all targeted Windows machines.

In contrast, it said, none of the "malware" were capable of infecting the Mac OS X operating system.

Microsoft has pledged that the latest version of its operating system, known as Vista, will be its most secure yet.

One analyst told the BBC News website that the reason why there are fewer viruses and worms on Mac systems is that the smaller user base makes them a less attractive target for hackers.

Microsoft Windows currently runs on nearly one billion computers worldwide. The latest version will be released later this year.

"It is our goal to give PC users the control and confidence they need so they can continue to get the most out of their PCs," a Microsoft spokesperson said.

"Windows Vista contains a number of new safety features that, taken together, are designed to make Windows PCs more secure and online experiences safer."

Microsoft said that security on Vista would be an integral part of the operating system rather than an add-on like in previous systems.

Top threats

The advice from Sophos was given as it released a report, detailing the security threats posed to computers so far in 2006.

The report says that there has been a vast drop in malicious software like viruses and worms.

Black MacBook
It seems likely that Macs will continue to be the safer place for computer users for some time to come
Graham Cluley, Sophos
However, the company warns that there has been a sharp increase in the number of Trojans. It said that 82% of new security threats this year were from these programs.

Trojans are pieces of malicious software that are hidden in other legitimate programs such as downloaded screensavers.

The Trojan may collect financial information or allow the infected computer to be controlled remotely for sending spam or launching web attacks.

"The continuing rise of malware will concern many - the criminals responsible are obviously making money from their code, otherwise they'd give up the game," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

Mac flaws

Although Trojans dominate the list of security threats, the most widespread problem was the Sober-Z worm.

The worm, which was spread by e-mail, infected people's computers and tried to turn off security settings. It replicated by looking for other e-mail addresses on the computers' hard drives.

Install anti-virus software
Keep your anti-virus software up to date
Install a personal firewall
Use Windows updates to patch security holes
Use reputable anti-spyware programs such as AdAware or Spybot
Do not open e-mail messages that look suspicious
Do not click on e-mail attachments you were not expecting
At its peak, the worm accounted for one in every 13 e-mails being sent.

The worm infected computers running the Windows operating system, but was not designed to infect Apple Macs.

"It seems likely that Macs will continue to be the safer place for computer users for some time to come," said Mr Cluley.

"[That is] something that home users may wish to consider if they're deliberating about the next computer they should purchase," he added.

But Brian Gammage, an analyst at Gartner research does not believe the advice is well founded.

The number of people using Macs is far less than those using Window's based PCs, he said.

"If you have smaller walls, you attract less graffiti," he said. "There is nothing architecturally safer about Macs. If everyone moved to them then the situation would change overnight"

Earlier this year, a security flaw in the way that Macs downloaded files was identified; while three concept viruses and a worm written specifically for Apple computers were also discovered.

The viruses were never released into the "wild" and posed little security threat.

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