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Yet Another Misleading “Mac Attack” Story in the Media

October 23rd, 2006

CNN is running a high-profile piece today titled, “Security analysts: Mac attacks rare but may rise.” The URL for the piece contains the words “apple virus.”

Their evidence? The story that a few iPods were shipped with a virus. A virus that doesn’t affect Macs, or iPods, but the Windows OS only. This is a “Mac attack”?

But they give more evidence:

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.

In other words, the same old re-heated misinformation spread by a company that wants to frighten Mac users into buying their unnecessary software. Vulnerabilities are all good and well, but every OS has them, and they don’t mean much if they are not exploited before they are discovered; it means that Apple is doing a good job of finding and patching them. So far, no vulnerability on OS X has been successfully exploited in any harmful way. As for the “threats of malicious code” (just threats? not actual malware?), whatever “malicious code” has been released has been in proof-of-concept form only–never in the wild, never harmful, and never released in a way that could infect more than just a handful of machines. The day will come when the first piece of malicious code written for Mac OS X which actually does some damage will spread to more than just a handful of Macs. But that day has not yet come.

Ironically, the fact that the Windows virus was able to get onto the iPods (via a third-party contractor, not directly by Apple) is a testament to the weakness of the Windows OS, not the Mac OS. That iPod-virus story has no place in an article about Mac security, except to bolster the fact that the Mac itself is secure.

And yet people misuse the news, like this writer (who clearly has a chip on his shoulder and a stick up his butt about Macs), who speaks of “the myth of total Mac invulnerability to viruses and spyware” and “self-righteously invincible Mac users” who believe they will never be hit by a virus. Ironically,hit s view is not held by Mac users so much as it is held by Windows users who are contemptuous of Mac users. They hear Mac users express pride and satisfaction about the relative security on the Mac and resentfully exaggerate that to mean “Macs are perfect, and will never have any problems at all.” As I have mentioned on many occasions, and any knowing Mac user will tell you, the Mac is not invulnerable–it simply has better security than Windows. It benefits also from its current obscurity, but even were it to reach 50% market share, it would still not get as much malware as Windows does.

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