Mac Threats: Is Symantec Crying Wolf?

Opinion: Despite Symantec's security warnings for Mac OS X, Macintosh users pay too much for protection they don't really need.

In a perfect would, people might pay for security software based on the number of attacks prevented and the severity of those threats. The bigger the threat, the harder the software works and the more it protects, the more you pay. Seems fair enough.

In the case of Mac OS X, if you paid for what you got, the price for security software would be zero. The price would thus equal the number of virus and malware threats that target Apples Unix-based operating system.

So why do Mac users pay so much—often as much at $70 for anti-virus alone and as much as $150 for a security "suite." Using the same math, Windows anti-virus software would probably cost $1,000 a desktop, yet its easy to find software for as little as $20 in the stores.

Mac OS X users pay significantly more for protection than Windows users, protection so far they have needed only in theory or "just in case" a big new threat appears. People are getting wise to this. So is it any wonder that Symantec, in the eternal search for the next dollar, is out with a report that seems to predict dire consequences for future Mac users? Its like a teacher once told me, "Sell the sizzle, not the steak. Especially when you dont have any steak."

I suppose its to the anti-virus industrys credit that some bored anti-virus developer hasnt launched an OS X threat merely to justify his or her continued employment. Still, with no threats, its not like the software really requires much dev time.

It was not my plan to return to Macintosh security so soon, having just written about it last week.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read David Courseys column "Mac OS X: Virus-Free—For Now."

But my friend and co-worker Ryan Naraine wrote a story this week in which Symantec talks about the growing threat viruses and malware pose to Mac OS X users, mentioned earlier. This claim is based on an internal assessment conducted for the companys "Security Threat Report," issued twice yearly.

Ryans story quotes the company as predicting that with the "introduction and popularity of OS X … Apple has become a target for new attacks and vulnerabilities."

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read "Mac OS X Will Become a Target, Symantec Warns."

Indeed, a Morgan Stanley report out this week predicts Apple could nearly double its share of the worldwide PC sales this year, thanks to iPod users buying a Mac as well. Going from 3 percent to 5 percent will be dramatic for Apple, but hardly noticeable in the broad marketplace. Given OS Xs small global installed base, even this projected doubling of sales may not be enough to attract too much unwanted attention.

"Contrary to popular belief," the Symantec Threat Report continues, "the Macintosh operating system has not always been a safe haven from malicious code. Out of the public eye for some time, it is now clear that the Mac OS is increasingly becoming a target for the malicious activity that is more commonly associated with Microsoft and various Unix-based operating systems."

Next Page: Threats will grow.