Mac OS X's Reputation for Security Wearing Thin

 
 
By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-08-06 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

News Analysis: After Apple announced 18 security fixes to Mac OS X on Aug. 5, the reputation of the operating system as a more secure personal computing platform is starting to wear thin. Is it finally time for the company to admit that its operating system is as susceptible to security issues as Windows? Apple would be doing a good service to Mac users if it started advising its customers to pay closer attention to security before hackers have a chance to prove just how vulnerable Mac OS X can be.

Mac OS X is considered by some to be an extremely secure operating system. Those people claim that thanks to its many security features, users will be kept much safer using Apple's software, rather than risk it with Microsoft's Windows operating system. They claim that proof of that can be found in the sheer number of security vulnerabilities Microsoft has been forced to patch, compared with Apple. Those same people might be interested to know that that logic is starting to show itself for what it really is: a red herring.

Apple released an update to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard earlier this week. Aside from better compatibility with Airport wireless systems and enhanced Bluetooth reliability, Apple released 18 security fixes. Those security fixes encompass issues giving malicious hackers access to system files, the ability for third parties to exploit an image link to gain access to a user's computer, and more.

It's ironic that Apple, a company that has spent so much time and money railing against Microsoft for its security issues, was forced to release 18 security fixes to ensure its own operating system isn't exploited. On one hand, Apple should be lauded for releasing those security updates. After all, if it failed to address security issues that would put users at risk, it could only mean that Apple simply isn't doing its job. But it did patch those security issues, so perhaps it is.

But it's not the fact that Apple fixed its operating system that some might take issue with. Instead, it might be important to consider the fact that by perpetuating the myth that Mac OS X is extremely secure, it could lead to many more issues for Mac OS X users. In the process, it could cause Apple, a company that has historically stayed tight-lipped on security, to admit that Mac OS X just isn't the secure operating system some people think it is.

It's a Numbers Game
Security is a numbers game. The more people using an operating system, the greater the opportunity for malicious hackers to capitalize. That's one of the main reasons why Windows has been such a target. In the security space, more exploits mean more victims, which mean more cash. In essence, malicious hackers want to target the pool with the highest return. Historically, that has led them to Windows. Going forward, it will continue to be Windows, given its dominating position in the operating system market.

But Mac OS X is starting to gain some ground. Although Steve Ballmer has consistently said that Apple's gain in the OS space isn't important, hackers don't agree. They see an opportunity. They realize that Mac OS X is largely untested and thus probably quite vulnerable to security issues. They understand that there are few anti-virus and anti-spyware programs available to protect Mac OS X users. Most importantly, they realize that the culture that has been cultivated by Apple and its supporters makes Mac OS X an ideal target.



 
 
 
 
Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Gearlog.com. Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for CNET.com, 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 http://twitter.com/donreisinger.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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