Apple is typically proud of the security of macOS; the company has made privacy and security the central themes of many of its ad campaigns in recent years, however, in court, Apple’s head of software engineering, Craig Federighi, stated that the Cupertino gaint has a “level of malware on the Mac that we don’t find acceptable.”
There’s no denying that we’ve seen a rise in the level of malware on macOS in recent years, but the context for this testimony is critical as it comes during the trial that Apple is currently embroiled in with Epic Games (via CNET).
So why is that leading Apple to criticize its own platform? Because one tactic Apple is employing in the lawsuit is to point out the relative insecurity of the macOS platform in comparison to iOS and iPadOS. While iOS and iPadOS aren’t spotless when it comes to malware, security is irrefutably less of an issue than on macOS.
Epic Games is attacking the walled-garden approach Apple uses with its mobile platforms by saying that only allowing apps installed from its own App Store is too restrictive and anti-competitive.
Apple’s defense is that this is necessary in order to provide the highest level of security possible on devices with cameras, microphones, GPS and biometric data that are often with a user for the majority of the day. I’m not a legal expert, so I won’t weigh in on the legitimacy of that argument one way or the other, but the trial is certainly putting an uncommon amount of pressure and attention on some of the details of Apple’s business practices.
Other details that have emerged during the proceedings are Apple deliberately avoiding iMessage on Android as a competitive advantage for iPhone, special deals for specific developers, Apple driving more than $400 billion in physical purchases through the App Store in 2019, and illustrating some of the inconsistencies in Apple’s treatment of apps and games in the App Store.
Turning back to the macOS security discussion, Federighi did give some hard numbers, offering up that there have been 130 types of malware on macOS over the last twelve months with a single example that infected at least 300,000 macOS devices. Given the stakes of this trial, there likely won’t be anything final for months or years, but it is certainly producing some interesting insights into Apple as well as the gaming business.