Q&A Columnist uses ‘security through obscurity’ myth to defend Windows vs. Mac on virus issue

It’s time for yet another columnist’s mea culpa on the order of David Pogue and David Zeiler. This time it’s Patrick Marshall. His Q&A article, based on myth, not fact, has just hit the presses, so we’ll have to wait for (or help along) the mea culpa part. Again.

Marhsall’s Q&A goes as follows:
“Q. My question is this: For those of us who use Macintosh computers and don’t have Windows or Word on the computer, are there any precautions we should take when a Windows virus/worm goes around?”

“A. The overwhelming majority of viruses affect only a single operating system. There are viruses that affect Macintosh and Linux, as well as Windows systems. Most of those who write viruses, however, are seeking to cause the most disruption they can. Accordingly, they write viruses for the most popular operating system: Microsoft Windows. The best precaution for all users is to keep an updated version of a high-quality antivirus program running at all times.” Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Wrong, Patrick. Mac OS X is not more secure than Windows because less people use OS X, making it less of a target. Mac OS X is more secure than Windows. Period. Read David Pogue’s mea culpa here for reference. Patrick Marshall can be reached at pmarshall@seattletimes.com.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Is Mac OS X really inherently more secure than Windows? – August 26, 2003
BusinessWeek’s Haddad gets it wrong; thinks low market share spares Macs from viruses – August 28, 2003
Shattering the Mac OS X ‘security through obscurity’ myth – August 28, 2003
Fortune columnist: ‘get a Mac’ to thwart viruses; right answer for the wrong reasons – September 02, 2003
New York Times: Mac OS X ‘much more secure than Windows XP’ – September 18, 2003
Columnist tries the ‘security through obscurity’ myth to defend Windows vs. Macs on virus front – October 1, 2003


  1. Good God. What exactly about his answer to the question was wrong? The questioner never stated that he uses OS X, only Macs. Obviously you know there were viruses for older versions of the Mac OS.

    The author doesn’t say Mac is more secure because they’re the minority, he says people want to cause mass disruption so they choose the easy target, the hole-riddled Windows. Sayig that people prefer to attack the most popular OS, Windows, doesn’t mean they don’t attack Mac because of small numbers. It means the truth. Windows is dominant and is attacked more often that OS X. What is incorrect about that?

    MDN is getting far too brazen in attempting to call out those who “wrong” Apple and OS X. Please be a little more objective when reading things in the future and don’t overanalyze them for hidden Mac attacks that simply aren’t there.

  2. I don’t think MDN is seeing an attack–that would be intentional, and you’re right, it’s not there. What MDN points out in some cases is the UNintentional–the more subtle perpetuation of myths that are still just as false. In this case, the myth isn’t the writer’s main point–but by omitting some key truths relevant to the question, the bias IS there to be corrected. A bias not based on lies, but on half-truths.

  3. Yeah but Patrick is an MS Boy. I just wrote him not so long ago on an issue about Pop-Up Killers and that instead of telling people to bite the bullet and just deal with Pop-Ups (since Pop-Up Killer Utils don’t always work) that he should recommend Netscape/Mozilla. The Pop-Up Killer’s definitely work for them!

    I haven’t heard from him yet :-

  4. I’m not familiar with the author, so i am unaware of his previous writings. My comments were more directed at the MDN take, which mentions OS X. that is something the questioner never mentioned himself. MDN is arguing against a point never actually stated by anyone.

    Sure, the author could have said “If you are using OS X you have nothing to fear.” But I don’t equate not saying that to be perpetuating the STO myth.

  5. When the first OS X virus comes out, every Wintel flunky will go out of their way to spread the news.

    That is enough reason for hackers to salivate to write the first virus for OS X

  6. rageous, in response to your observation –

    Who cares about OS 9? It’s defunct, ancient crap at this point. It’s past the point of not looking back. Mac OS X is practically fourth generation now! If you want to fuss over Mac OS 9 and Windows 95, fine. Have fun.

  7. Also note the question asked prior to the one about viruses; “Popping off at irksome popups: actions to help defend yourself”. Windows users are constantly barraged with ads interrupting their work. It not only comes from IE’s inability to allow the user to block pop-ups via websites, but they also must contend with pop-ups entering via a server entrance initially designed for system admins to notify people of problems. Outside advertiser have exploited this. (The fact that an ad company can use such a system-based channel is rather chilling to me).

    A friend at work says this is normal and he thought it was common with Mac users, too. I told him that I haven’t seen a pop-up since using iCab and then Safari. He says it can get so bad you must restart/reboot your computer, or pay for a pop-up blocker application. I had no idea it was this bad.

    They also must use separate spam blocking software for their email. This is why most ISPs provide spam blocking as a feature, because Microsoft doesn’t produce give their users such features as Apple’s Mail filters.

    Yes, Windows and Macs do the same thing, but with Windows you must buy additional software from various vendors with varying interfaces (and not always compatible with each other or certain hardware configurations) to make it function like a Mac. Imagine all of those aps running, having to maintain and upgrade each one, (don’t forget your most important one, a virus checker), and then trying to figure out what crashed your system and why.

    Windows users deal with this on a daily basis, and they actually think (just as my friend does) that this is the way Macs are, too, in addition to “not being compatible with anything”. This is why no one looks at Apple for computer solutions; myths and false assumptions.

    For ALL of these easy to make viruses and a complete lack of the most fundamental security or pop-up blocking, Microsoft must be getting some serious cash from 3rd party software vendors and advertisers.

  8. I think Marshall is right: hackers “write viruses for the most popular operating system”. If any of you know a hacker or two, ask them what it is about Windows that attracts them. I know the holes are part of it, but the possibility of reaching critical mass is extremely attractive to a real hacker. A virus that infected every Mac on the planet would not be as satisfying as one that infected 1 out of 10 PCs.

    MDN definitely has a point to make (and should keep on making it), but that doesn’t make Marshall’s statement incorrect. There comes a point when you are no longer fighting for truth, but are trying to force your valid point into every article. Must every article about Security make the same point? How boring! I’d like to see you back off a bit in the interest of reader interest.

  9. I have to totally agree that it is foolish for MDN to continue to blast news articles that mention that hackers usually write more viruses for Windows because they are more popular. I am sure it is completely true. There is no incentive to attack Apple computers as they are much less widespead, and thus do not have as much appeal to a hacker community.

    I agree that Mac OS X is way more secure than Windows, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. It is definitely true that there is much more of a reason for virus-writers to target Windows PC’s. Thus, I think MDN is looking very slanted at only one side of the issue. There are two reasons that Windows PCs are more virus-prone. Just because one of them isn’t true doesn’t mean the other one isn’t true automatically as well.

  10. Apparently any bored kid with a free weekend can make a virus for Windows. Where’s the challenge? His virus will simply die a quick death and be just one of the 100 that Symantec smashes each month.

    I find it odd that Windows supporters take pride with their system being vulnerable to attack, and then use that as an indicator of popularity. It’s kinda of like Ford being happy with the increasing number of traffic accidents caused by their cars as proof that more people drive their cars.
    “99 out of every 100 accidents involve Fords, therefore 99% of the population must enjoy driving Fords, and it has nothing to do with Ford’s vulnerability to causing accidents.” Yea, right!

    With Microsoft’s ceaseless parade of flaws making Macs look increasingly better by comparison, it would benefit Microsoft to make at least ONE Mac virus (under the guise of a security research project) and prove it vulnerable. But, NOT ONE. There must be thousands of Microsoft lovers that are angered by Apple’s “arrogance of perfection” and are trying to crack into OS X, and be labeled the BEST hacker!! But, NOT ONE! Macs have about (any number you want)% of the computer market but have less than .001% of the viruses. It all can’t be explained away with “popularity” or lack thereof. The “popularity” theory has NO basis of any fact, and is just a perpetuated myth for those too lazy to do any research.

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