BusinessWeek columnist propagates discounted ‘Apple Mac security via obscurity myth’

“[Analysts] do agree on one area where Apple has an advantage: Security. Macs are targeted by viruses and hacking attacks far less often than machines running Microsoft’s Windows simply because there are fewer of them around. Computer criminals strive for maximum impact, so they pay less attention to the relatively small number of Mac users,” Arik Hesseldahl writes for BusinessWeek.

“While Microsoft struggles to build firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus technology into Windows, Mac users are for the most part untroubled by these annoyances, and that’s a point it could press, says Richard Forno, a principal consultant with KRVW Associates, a computer-security firm in Alexandria, Va. ‘I’m seeing more and more people in the security business using Macs and saying they trust them and don’t have to cope with viruses and other hassles,’ he says. ‘I just wish Apple would market its security as a key feature to corporate customers.’ Of course, the more popular Apple machines become, the more likely they are to be targeted by hackers and virus writers,” Hesseldahl writes.

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The idea that Windows’ morass of security woes exists because more people use Windows and that Macs have no security problems because less people use Macs, is simply not true. Mac OS X is not more secure than Windows because less people use OS X, making it less of a target. By design, Mac OS X is simply more secure than Windows. Period. For reference and reasons why Mac OS X is more secure than Windows, read The New York Times’ David Pogue’s mea culpa on the subject of the “Mac Security Via Obscurity” myth here.

Hesseldahl is the same writer who wrote for Forbes back in June 2003, “Naysayers have been calling for Apple’s demise for years. But Apple not only has survived but thrived, it seems, at least partially by the sheer force of Jobs’ will and his ability to maintain the ferocious loyalty of Apple’s users, who still account for 10% of the world’s computer users, while its sales usually account for about 3% to 5% of the world global PC market.”

So, if Macs account for 10% or so (some say as much as 16%), then, according to Mr. Hesseldahl himself, Macs aren’t “obscure” at all. Therefore, the Apple Mac platform’s ironclad security simply cannot logically be attributed to obscurity.

There are zero-percent (0%) of viruses for the Mac OS X platform that should, logically, have some 10-16% of the world’s viruses if platforms’ install bases dictated the numbers of viruses. The fact that Mac OS X has zero (0) viruses discounts “security via obscurity.” There should be at least some Mac OS X viruses. There are none. The reason for this fact is not attributable solely to “obscurity,” it’s attributable to superior security design.

Still not convinced? Try this one on for size: according to Apple, there are “close to 16 million Mac OS X users” in the world and there are still zero (0) viruses. According to CNET, the Windows Vista Beta was released “to about 10,000 testers” at the time the first Windows Vista virus arrived. So much for the security via obscurity myth.

Arik Hesseldahl’s email address is:

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Hackers already targeting viruses for Microsoft’s Windows Vista – August 04, 2005
16-percent of computer users are unaffected by viruses, malware because they use Apple Macs – June 15, 2005
ZDNet: How many Mac OS X users affected by the last 100 viruses? None, zero, not one, not ever – August 18, 2005
Intel CEO Otellini: If you want security now, buy a Macintosh instead of a Wintel PC – May 25, 2005
Apple touts Mac OS X security advantages over Windows – April 13, 2005
97,467 Microsoft Windows viruses vs. zero for Apple Mac’s OS X – April 05, 2005
Apple’s Mac OS X is virus-free – March 18, 2005
Cybersecurity advisor Clarke questions why anybody would buy from Microsoft – February 18, 2005
Security test: Windows XP system easily compromised while Apple’s Mac OS X stands safe and secure – November 30, 2004
Microsoft: The safest way to run Windows is on your Mac – October 08, 2004
Information Security Investigator says switch from Windows to Mac OS X for security – September 24, 2004
Columnist tries the ‘security through obscurity’ myth to defend Windows vs. Macs on virus front – October 1, 2003
New York Times: Mac OS X ‘much more secure than Windows XP’ – September 18, 2003
Fortune columnist: ‘get a Mac’ to thwart viruses; right answer for the wrong reasons – September 02, 2003
Shattering the Mac OS X ‘security through obscurity’ myth – August 28, 2003
Virus and worm problems not just due to market share; Windows inherently insecure vs. Mac OS X – August 24, 2003

66 Comments

  1. It’s true that if Macs had greater market penetration that more virus writers would target Mac OS X.

    It’s true that no OS, including Mac OS X, is theoretically impenetrable.

    It’s just sloppy journalism to conclude that therefore, if Macs had greater market penetration, it would be as bug-ridden as Windows.

  2. Well, now I have no doubts that we’ll become a bigger target… especially as more windows bigots become even more weary of hearing how happy-go-lucky we are on the internet as Mac users. I assure you further that there are already plenty of people out there who would love to take us down a notch.

    But that’s part of why we get constant updates and patches to thing we didn’t even know were potentially broken… to keep us protected from that. Sure, Windows is really easy and really visible… but the Mac is a far tastier target. I’m sure whoever does end up writing the first OS X virus will enjoy a lot of attention… and people know that.

    So yeah,security via obscurity thing is a crock for sure IMHO.

  3. david –

    The singular form is millennium.

    Left rear Tire –

    Security problems in Windows have not thus far been related to a broad base of supported hardware. It’s less-than-airtight code which permits overflows and leaves network ports unprotected.

    MDN –

    While the security-though-obscurity theory has not been proved, neither has it been debunked. It’s not likely to be proved, and until OSX has a healthy piece of the market (say, 30-40%), it won’t even be stridently tested.

    Regardless, BW is wrong. Marketing on a “we go under the radar” platform is a bad idea. As is a “bring it on; we’re invulnerable” attitude. They should promote how easy & powerful the OS is, and continue to court developers. Offering incentives to established Windows-only software makers to develop (*not* port!!) for OSX wouldn’t hurt on that front.

  4. Went to the Times and read the article.

    Funny that he quotes microsoft as saying they would fix the open ports issue in the next version of Windows which is ” a couple of years away”

    Since article is 2 years old, and couple means 2, where is this Windows version of which he speaks?

  5. I hate to break it to MDN because they seem so hell bent on insisting that Macs are impenetratable.

    BUT.. OSX is code.. Yes, it is better written code than Windows XP, but it is still code. For any code written, a virus can be written to infect that code. I don’t care how many permissions are required by the OS itself, it CAN be done. I do believe that OSX is more secure by design, but that does not mean that it is immune. We’ve been lucky so far, but that’s no reason to gloat. There will come a time and I’m guessing sooner rather than later when OSX comes under attack.

    The very reason Apple does not market OSX for it’s security benefits is because they know very well that the OS is not immune.

    Security via obscurity is NOT a myth and this article is correct in that virus writers wan’t maximum exposure. Their efforts can potentially bring down huge corporations with an XP virus and that is what they are after.

    But let’s not be so arrogant. As Mac marketshare increases especially into the corporate world OSX CAN and most likely WILL become a target for these hacksers.

  6. When the first virus for OS X is written and released into the wild, then the Mac platform will have less than .001 percent of the known viruses and Windows will have almost 99.99 percent of the known viruses.

    I think I will stay on the Mac side. When our share gets above 1%, please let me know. Thanks.

  7. Nowhere above does MDN say Mac OS X is “impenetratable.” MDN simply states logic: there are zero viruses, but 16 million Mac OS X users. Hesseldahl himself says 10% of the world uses Macs, so Macs are not obscure, by definition. You cannot have “security via obscurity” if obscurity doesn’t exist.

    Microsoft apologists want to blame anyone and anything except the actual problem: Microsoft.

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