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Mac attacks non-existant but CNN frightens anyway

October 22, 2006

There are several misleading bits in this CNN.com article on Macintosh virus threats (is there some reason the press can’t say “virus-free” but instead have to say “relatively virus-free”?), but in the end you do get something important:

One reason Apple has so far been shielded from nasty code is because its market share is relatively small.

[…]

But perhaps a bigger reason for Apple’s seemingly safe position is the stability of Mac OS X.

Hoopes said Mac OS X is based on the UNIX operating system, which was developed by Bell Labs in the 1960’s and at the University of California, Berkeley, through the 1970s. Variants of Unix power most of the servers on the Internet and the system has a reputation for security.

Although experts give Microsoft credit for greatly improving the security of its Windows operating system over the last few years, most still say Apple has the Seattle software giant beat.

“The Mac OS X has a higher security profile,” said Ray Wagner, a vice president at Gartner, a technology research firm. “It’s not generating anywhere near the same rate of problems, even on a per capita basis.”

Read the whole article here.

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  1. Compared to the Windows OS platform, the MAC OS is relatively virus free. I believe Microsoft’s approach to the market also encouraged much of the attacks. But the article also stated:

    “As they (Apple) increase their market share, there will be more of a concentrated effort to write malicious code for the platform,” said Jonathan Hoopes, an analyst who covers Apple for ThinkEquity Partners.

    Oliver Friedrichs, director of security response at Symantec, a leading anti-virus software vendor, said 72 vulnerabilities were discovered in the Mac’s OS X operating system in 2006, up from 19 in 2004.

    And Symantec identified six threats of malicious code written for the Mac OS X operating system in the first half of 2006, versus zero in the second half of 2005 and two the year before that.

    “It doesn’t mean more bugs are being introduced,” Friedrichs said. “But it means attackers are increasingly looking at it.”

    In the end, my take on the article is that as OS market share increases, so will attack attempts by determined attackers looking for any holes in the system. I didn’t see the article as frightening or misleading, just a level statement of opinion by people who follow the industry. It will be long time, if ever, before the MAC OS even comes close to the Windows OS in vulnerability and number of malicious attacks.


  2. I maintain that the “72 vulnerabilities” and “six threats of malicious code” make one think the threat is much greater than it really is. There are NO Mac OS X viruses in the wild. Not a single one. The article really doesn’t do a good job of communicating this very salient and, for Windows users, somewhat startling fact. Instead it carries on about “vulnerabilites” and “examples of malicious code,” which in practical terms mean nothing to anyone except engineers at Symantec.


  3. There is no such thing as an invulnerable OS. Any open system, especially systems that invite developer applications is vulnerable to attack. So far I think the MAC OS has been lucky based on the overall robustness of their software. Couple this luck with market satisfaction and good treatment of their customers and no one seems pissed off enough to retaliate like they have towards Microsoft. Likewise, smaller market share limits the impact of a virus versus the Windows platform. There is also a huge amount of free developer application information on the Microsoft web site (as compared to Apple) making it easier for attackers to figure out and test weak points in the OS architecture. I have been involved in enough firmware, BIOS and assembler level software development to know that there are many people out there that have the talent and skills to exploit any vulnerabilities in the MAC OS. If Apple keeps growing and taunting their lack of viruses, they may provide the motivation to turn one of these talented individuals to the dark side and be the first to crack the MAC OS with a virus, Trojan or worm. The MAC OS is a much better OS than Windows, even though it hasn’t been called upon to support any where near the amount of varied applications as Windows.

    Don’t be so smug to think that the MAC OS is impervious to attack, one day you may find a nasty surprise. It just a matter of time before someone wants to take a shot at the MAC OS and enter the hacker hall of fame.


  4. There is no such thing as an invulnerable OS.

    Never said there was.

    Apple has not been “lucky.” And I don’t think their superior security situation has anything to do with their customer satisfaction (although it is the highest in the industry). It does have something to do with market share, I admit; lots of folks make malicious software for profit, and the more machines they can infect the more profit they make. But another highly salient reason is that Apple designs their software better than Microsoft does. They deserve credit and recognition for that. The idea that if they had 50% market share they’d have 50% of the viruses is false, and too many tech-savvy people fall for this line of thinking. Mostly I think it’s a shame because it lets Microsoft off hte hook for making insecure products. It’s no skin off my nose, but you all should demand better!

    There is also a huge amount of free developer application information on the Microsoft web site (as compared to Apple)

    Baloney. Apple is built on BSD Unix. I can’t think of anything more widely documented, inside and out, than this. Certainly Windows isn’t.

    If Apple keeps … taunting their lack of viruses

    If only they would! I think tons more people would switch if they really understood the situation. The CNN.com article above does little to help them grasp it. Hence my complaining.

    Don’t be so smug to think that the MAC OS is impervious to attack

    I never suggested it was. In fact, I predict that within 18 months there will be at least one spyware/adware/virus discovered for it in the wild. I further predict that Windows apologists will seize upon it and say “see! Things are tough all over!” completely ignoring the fact that 1 virus compared to their 60,000 is still a ridiculously good record on Apple’s part.


  5. I hadn’t followed the MAC OS more recently and did not realize they incorporated BSD Unix elements since 2001 under project NeXT. Prior to that, Apple derived their GUI from Xerox PARC and the undelying PSDOS. I knew they had optional A/UX for interface to UNIX based programs and data which ended in 1995. UNIX is pretty solid OS with some abrupt power down quirks that I’m sure Apple eliminated.


  6. HEllo. Just added your link here.



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