Fewer Mac Targets

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-05-06 Print this article Print

But as a practical matter, could the AFP overflow really become a successful worm? I could see it happening. The key is that, unlike a mail worm, the theoretical AFP worm could do some network reconnaissance. Even if it didnt, an attack wont be quite as noticed as with a mail-based attack.

For insights on security coverage around the Web, check out eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
Lets assume that 5 percent of systems out there are Macintoshes. That means that, scanning randomly, only one in 20 systems attacked could be susceptible. And some percentage of those will either be OS 9 or a patched OS X.
But it could still spread, just not as quickly as a Windows worm because there are so many fewer targets to hit. And of course, a properly configured firewall also could block the AFP attack.

The lack of targets is probably the reason why nobody writes mail worms for these platforms. Youd need to seed the worm carefully not only with Mac users—or Linux users, or whomever youre attacking—but with people who had an affected version and who hadnt patched. I can still see it working, but as long as 90-something percent of users are running Windows, it will be harder for a non-Windows attack to gain critical mass.

Theres a sort of moral hazard in recommending that people use a particular platform because its not popular. If too many people take the advice, it becomes self-defeating. Theres a good theoretical argument that worms could be successful on Linux or the Mac, and perhaps they will be more common in the future. But for the present, its hard to argue with history.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center at http://security.eweek.com for security news, views and analysis. Be sure to add our eWEEK.com security news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page:   More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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