Apple is making a renewed effort to gain business in the enterprise space, as the surge in remote corporate work opens opportunities to leverage its loyal base of iPhone and Mac users who trust the company's privacy and digital security efforts.
Apple has made a series of moves in recent weeks and months to win over corporate IT managers and CISOs, starting with the June 2020 purchase of device management firm Fleetsmith. Last week, Apple updated its Platform Security Guide, which analysts say is designed to show its security benefits to the corporate market, including the M1 chip and latest iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur upgrades.
"When you bring devices into the enterprise, there's a whole new set of challenges that I think some enterprise users have been cautious about because Apple hasn't really made a big push in this area before," said security researcher Patrick Wardle, founder of Objective-See.
Apple is not free of security concerns. Last week, researchers at Red Canary, with assistance from Malwarebytes and VMware Carbon Black, found a new strain of macOS malware called Silver Sparrow that has a binary compiled to run on Apple's new M1 chip.
"When they started to triage it, they found that, hey this is something a little bit different," Tony Lambert, intelligence analyst at Red Canary. "This is something that's not our typical adware, malicious adware that we see a lot of times."
The malware has infected more than 29,000 endpoints located across 153 countries as of Feb. 17, with those high volumes detected mainly in the U.S., U.K., Canada, France and Germany.
Malwarebytes meanwhile released an annual report showing an overall decrease of 37% in malware detections for Mac from 2019 to 2020, however business detections increased 31%, while consumer detections fell 40%.
"We believe detections fell across the board because of the disruption caused by COVID and quarantines," Thomas Reed, director of Mac and Malware at Malwarebytes. "This also may explain the higher rates for business, as more people brought business machines home to work from quarantine."
MacOs use grows
Apple has made some inroads in the enterprise of late, due to a strong base of mobile customers in the consumer market, the increasing use of mobile devices in the enterprise and the growth of remote workers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
MacOS grew to more than 23% share in 2020 among workers at companies with 1,000 employees or more, compared with 17% share in 2019, according to an IDC Marketscape report. Mac devices shipped to employees rose more than 34% during the second quarter of 2020.
Amid the increase in remote work, a number of enterprises are allowing employees to bring their own devices. Many workers are choosing to use Apple laptop or desktop computers and getting a direct reimbursement or stipend from their employers, according to Phil Hochmuth, program vice president, enterprise mobility at IDC.
"At the same time, the management tools enterprises use to manage and secure endpoints have become more inclusive of Apple technology in recent years," Hochmuth said, "while specialist software vendors such as Jamf have emerged to help organizations increase management and security of macOS endpoints."
Besides Fleetsmith, which was acquired by Apple, firms such as Hexnode MDM, Addigy, Kandji and others offer similar endpoint services.
An October study by Jamf and market research firm Vanson Bourne shows 77% of organizations that used both Mac and non-Mac devices viewed the Mac devices as the most secure out of the box. The study of 1,500 IT and security officials also showed 79% of Mac users said the perceived security reputation helped influence decisions over purchasing.
Three-quarters of organizations that used Macs expected to see an increase in Mac usage over the next 12 months, according to the study. Of organizations that predominantly use non-Mac computers, 65% said they expected to see an increase in Mac use.
Apple executives say they are seeing the perceived benefits of Apple security and simplicity turn into business gains.
"In the enterprise market, we are seeing many businesses shifting their technology investment in response to COVID," Luca Maestri, chief financial officer at Apple, said during the company's fiscal first-quarter conference call, which took place Jan. 27.
Apple has hundreds of corporate customers managing tens of thousands of Apple devices. Apple currently has about 225,000 organizations enrolled in Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager programs, which are designed to help IT departments manage device, app and account use for corporate deployments and classroom settings respectively.
Apple enjoys a strong presence among mobile devices in the corporate workspace, with iPhones making up about 50% of mobile phones in the enterprise space, according to IDC.
Mitsubishi UFJ, one of the world's largest banks, agreed to replace 75% of its fixed phones with iPhones, Apple officials disclosed during its quarter earnings call in January.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company has "been on a multi-year effort in the enterprise and we've gained quite a bit of traction there," during the Q1 conference call.
Despite the perception of stronger security and new customer wins, Apple security may have benefited, at least in part, from the massive scale of Microsoft Windows in the enterprise market.
"There are simply many more businesses running PCs running that OS, so it is a bigger target of hackers," Hochmuth said. "However, Mac vulnerabilities do exist and these devices are increasingly seen as valuable targets, as users of the devices are often higher level workers organizationally, and may have more access to valuable and sensitive information."