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Have 1 in 5 Macs Just Become Vulnerable to Attack?

With its latest security update, Apple seems to have signaled the end of its support for Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6, the version of its operating system that first came out in 2009. That leaves approximately 1 in 5 Macs seriously vulnerable to attack because they are running an outdated OS.

On Feb. 25 Apple released its first security update of the year, most significantly patching the critical error in the way its newest operating system, Mac OS X Mavericks 10.9, handles SSL/TLS connections. In the same update, it also released several patches for Mac OS X Lion 10.7 and Mountain Lion 10.8. That makes two security updates in a row with no bug patches or other support for Snow Leopard, which hasn't seen a patch since last September.

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Apple doesn't really make a habit of clearly stating when it's planning on ending support for an operating system, but experts at analytics firm Net Applications believe that Snow Leopard's time is officially done. In fact, with three newer operating systems currently available, it's almost surprising that Apple supported Snow Leopard for as long as it did.

Upgrades to OS X Lion or Mountain Lion both cost $19.99 in the Apple Store. Upgrading to OS X Mavericks, the most recent Apple operating system, is free, though you have to have a compatible Mac device running Snow Leopard, Lion or Mountain Lion to do so. 

Snow Leopard users account for 19 percent of all Macs, according to a release from Net Applications. Aside from a simple unwillingless to change or a dislike of the newer operating systems' user interface, one of the main reasons Snow Leopard has stayed in use is because it's the last Apple operating system that supports the Rosetta translation utility, which is needed to launch applications for the PowerPC processor, an older CPU that Apple hasn't used since 2006.

However, Apple's ending support for Snow Leopard means that these users need to seriously consider upgrading as soon as possible. Some experts have even speculated that Apple might want to end support for Lion and Mountain Lion soon as well. When Apple released Mavericks, it also released documentation of all the flaws in previous operating systems that Mavericks fixed -- without offering any patches for those flaws as they existed in the operating systems themselves. That's like handing hackers a roadmap of vulnerabilities to exploit on Mountain Lion and Lion. However, some of these flaws were fixed in the February update.

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