Secrecy Matters

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-06-29 Print this article Print

Apple might enjoy railing against Microsoft for its Windows security problems, but the company's emphasis on secrecy and covering up security problems will come back to haunt it. On Apple's Website, there's just one page detailing Snow Leopard's security. On that page, the company says Snow Leopard will "screen" the files you "download using Safari, Mail and iChat." The operating system then analyzes digital signatures to ensure it hasn't been changed since it was added to the hard drive. Great. But what about all the other applications you download? What application will screen those?

I'm also a little concerned by Apple's contention that "with virtually no effort on your part, Mac OS X offers a multilayered system of defenses against viruses and other dangerous malware."

Anyone who has been forced to deal with security issues in the enterprise will tell you that whenever a company says it will offer a "fire and forget" security solution, it's a nightmare. Apple went on to detail its intention of using sandboxing in Snow Leopard to restrict programs from accessing particular files. It also has library randomization and execute disable to protect the Mac's memory. Other than that, Apple stayed relatively mum on its Website about Snow Leopard's security.

False sense of security?

And perhaps that's why I have such a problem with Snow Leopard. On its own Website, Apple details some security features that, to be quite honest, are already built into Windows 7. It makes no mention of vulnerabilities that have affected the operating system in the past. It doesn't discuss how it will consistently keep enterprise users safe. And worst of all, it makes them feel like they have nothing to worry about. I disagree.

Mac OS X Snow Leopard will be the most tested Apple operating system yet. Before the release of Mac OS X Tiger, the idea of even discussing Mac security was ludicrous. But after that operating system was released, Apple has been tested more than ever. And thanks to more market share and the creation of that false sense of security, malicious hackers are taking notice. They can capitalize on that.  And based on what I see from Apple, its operating system might not be prepared.

The bottom line

Is Mac OS X Snow Leopard really ready for the enterprise? Probably not. Security is not a single-front war. IT managers need multiple layers of security to ensure mission-critical data is kept safe. And although Apple claims it can provide that security, most third-party security applications simply aren't compatible with Mac OS X. That means companies will need to entrust Apple, a company that has yet to face too many security obstacles, with the safety of their networks. It's a tough sell.

Although Windows is rife with issues, it's getting better. And the promise of Windows 7 means it will be the most secure version of the operating system yet. Combine that with a slew of security packages that help maintain the security of the network, and it's tough to see how Mac OS X can compete.

Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at

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