Mac OS X: Virus-free—For Now

 
 
By David Coursey  |  Posted 2005-03-17
 
 
 

Mac OS X: Virus-free—For Now


Heres a piece of news you may not know: There are currently no viruses or malware that specifically target Mac OS X lurking "in the wild," ready to infect your Macintosh.

What? You dont have a Macintosh? Maybe thats just as well. After all, if lots of people did have Macs, the platform would be much more attractive to the evildoers of the world.

People in the Macintosh community know they are virus-free, but dont make a big deal about it, lest they attract unwanted attention. So lets just make this our secret.

And the evil-doers who read my columns must likewise promise not to create something new just to prove me wrong.

Bad guys: Please follow your existing development roadmap and forget this column exists.

How do I know there are no Mac OS X viruses and malware out there?

Because the Mac product manager of one of the major security software companies told me so.

And when people tell me I dont need their product, I usually take them at their word.

I wont identify the person since he thought he was talking to me for a book project, but people at Apple were happy to confirm this to me.

They dont put it in their advertising for obvious reasons.

Despite the good news, I am not telling you to turn off the anti-virus software thats running on your Macintosh.

And I still encourage you to purchase anti-virus protection for all your machines.

Why spend the money?

First, because its possible the guy was wrong. Second, someone may have created a threat in the two weeks since I spoke to him (or may be about to). Third, your Mac probably has some Windows viruses or malware on it.

To read more about a possible exploit that could affect computers running Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server versions 10.0.0 through 10.3.7, click here.

While these wont damage the Mac, if you are on a network or just send e-mail, you can innocently send the pathogenic software to Windows users.

No, that is not the point of owning a Mac.

Ive already alluded to why Mac OS X is essentially virus-free: because almost nobody uses it.

I hear the gnashing of teeth from Mac users and book publishers already.

But lets face it: In the grand scheme of things, Mac OS X users are a statistical rounding error.

If youre in the business of creating malware of profit, which platform would you choose?

Next Page: The anarchist hobby-hacker factor.

The anarchist hobby


-hacker factor">

Also, Mac OS X doesnt generate the tremendous hatred that in some circles surrounds anything Microsoft-related.

Remove these anarchist hobby-hackers from the mix and your potential threat goes down considerably.

As for these people, Ill just say that what they dont know (or dont realize) about Apple is good news for Mac users.

Another reason is that Apple has implemented a version of "least privilege" computing in OS X.

Users may not like having to enter an administrators password every time they try to install software, but the requirement also makes it hard for something unwelcome to appear as well.

However, as Windows becomes more buttoned-up and, especially, if Apple gains PC market share on the coattails of its iPod juggernaut, the threats to OS X will almost certainly increase.

There will be less opportunity for thievery on the Windows side, the number of Mac users will have risen (if only by a relatively small number), and the bad guys will find OS X exploits that we dont yet know exist.

As a Unix, Mac OS X ought to be easier to protect than Windows.

Click here to read more about vulnerabilities in Darwin, the implementation of Unix that underlies the Mac OS X operating system.

But all of the currently available firewalls, according to a recent review I read, still leave some openings that a hacker might exploit.

There is also the problem that not having (m)any viruses means the OS X anti-virus software hasnt been tested under fire in the real-world.

This probably isnt a problem, but we really dont know.

Another concern is Apples ability to quickly create and distribute emergency fixes, also untested.

Right now, Apple has the luxury of being able to issue patches on what appears to be its own schedule. That might not always be the case.

And, yes, the sun might not come up tomorrow morning, in which case these Mac OS X concerns will seem like pretty small potatoes.

So until bad things start happening to my Macintoshes, Ill just count my blessings and be happy that at least some of my computers dont require a constant watchful eye.

Contributing Editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. Before joining eWEEK.com, David was executive editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk and has been a columnist for PC World, ComputerWorld and other publications. Former executive producer of DEMO and other industry events, he also operates a technology consulting and event management business. A full bio and contact information may be found on his Web site, www.coursey.com.

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