Cargo magazine describes Apple’s Mac OS X’s immunity to viruses, spyware as ‘relative’

Cargo magazine’s October 2005 issue looks at 2005’s laptops and chooses the Apple iBook G4 as a portable they considered among “the best in several categories, on the basis of performance, portability, and design, among other criteria,” writes Cargo’s Mark Spoonauer.

Cargo’s description of Apple’s iBook G4:

With its handy iLife multimedia suite, innovative Tiger operating system (we love the quick Spotlight desktop search engine), sexy casing, and relative immunity to viruses and spyware, the iBook is the laptop of choice if you want to simplify your computing – and look good doing it. One thing we miss: the hottest new PC games.

Cargo magazine’s October 2005 issue is not yet online, but is available at newsstands now. Cargo’s website is: http://www.cargomag.com/

MacDailyNews Take: We agree with Cargos’ blurb, right down to the “games” comment – if you want games, get a console – but, we have one objection which you can probably guess: the use of the word “relative” when describing Apple’s Mac OS X Tiger’s operating system’s immunity to viruses and spyware. Why are we pointing it out? Simply because most people reading that would come away with the misunderstanding that Mac OS X might have some viruses and spyware when, in fact, Mac OS X has zero (0) viruses and spyware to date.

Oxford Dictionary definition:
rel•a•tive |ˈrelətiv| adjective: considered in relation or in proportion to something else • existing or possessing a specified characteristic only in comparison to something else; not absolute.

Apple’s Mac OS X’s immunity to viruses and spyware is an absolute, and has been for five years now. There are no viruses and spyware for Mac OS X. Since Mac OS X is immune to viruses and spyware, Cargo’s description fails to explain Mac OS X’s immunity correctly and, as such, fails their readers.

Cargo’s description would have better served their readership if they had simply left out the word “relative” altogether. We make a point of this not to nitpick, but because this is a common issue with reviews of Mac OS X; we don’t know if writers are somewhat uninformed (such reviewers obviously know that Macs have “less” viruses and spyware issues, at least), can’t quite believe that, to date, Mac OS X is completely immune from viruses and spyware, or something else.

No qualification is necessary and inserting the word “relative” muddies the issue unnecessarily. To date, Mac OS X is absolutely immune to viruses and spyware.

Cargo can be contacted here: http://www.cargomag.com/site/readeropinion/

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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
Joke of the month: Gartner warns of Mac OS X ‘spyware infestation’ potential – March 30, 2005
Symantec details flaws in its antivirus software – March 30, 2005
Motley Fool writer: ‘I’d be surprised if Symantec ever sells a single product to a Mac user again’ – March 24, 2005
Symantec cries wolf with misplaced Mac OS X ‘security’ warning – March 23, 2005
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53 Comments

  1. I have to side a little with Cargo on this one. Macs are not absolutely immune since there is a (very) small chance there might be malware written that can affect them. So relative immunity is pretty accurate as a description in my opinion.

    I can understand however, why MDN is making a point of this. Time and again writers are giving the wrong impression that there IS malware out there for OS X, just not as much. And that is absolutely wrong. As MDN points out, currently there is NO (zero, zip, nada, nil) malware in the wild that affects OS X and that point should be made clearly in anything written on the subject and very very often it is not.

    Cargo’s phrasing, however, is technically accurate. The thing is, anyone who has already gotten the misconception elsewhere that there is malware that effects OS X could misinterpret this phrase to mean that malware does exist. Cargo should have had the cajones to say flat out that currenly there is no known self-propagating malware that effects OS X. But since they were technically correct, I won’t be writing them to call them on this one.

  2. whatNow?

    When do you have your first date with someone…after the birth of your fifth child together???

    You need to get your timing right!!!

    ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”big surprise” style=”border:0;” />

  3. We should say the relative difference between the frequency of virus infection between Windows and OS X, currently some 80,000 to 0, is because OS X is different. Saying OS X is superior increases adrenaline and raises the irritability quotient in Windows users causing interrupts in their brain function. Saying simply OS X is different, something a Windows user is willing to admit, allows normal brain function leading to a reply of, “Well, how’s it different.” One can then say OS X ports are normally closed, permissions are handled differently, administration passwords required for installation, etc., functional differences not related to number of users.

    MW ‘lot’ – Makes a lot of sense to me.

  4. I’m sorry, while I agree that “relative” is the wrong term, I think so is “absolute”. Nothing is “absolute” in the world of computer security, nothing. I’m crazy about Apple; and gag-ga over Mac OS X. I do believe its pretty darn secure out of the box. But, I have to say, it continues to annoy me when other Mac enthusiast go to the extreme and say nothing, nada, zippo, can or will happen to the Mac OS, just look at our history.

    History is history. It’s the future that one needs to think about sometime. It’s like saying you lived in a nice, safe town, where people didn’t need to lock their doors or train their kids on how to call the police or fire department in cases of emergencies; because there’s always been an adult around. But one day some stranger breaks in, robs, steals, kills or maims, and sets the house on fire; and all the town can say is, its never happened here before.

    I believe the likelihood of a Mac OS X virus/worm is slim to none; because of how Mac OS X is configured out of the box. But that doesn’t mean security SHOULDN’T be important to Mac users. There is key logging software, trojans (which admittedly would need a fantastic developer to get anywhere on the Mac, because we hate ugly useless software), word/excel viruses, software that calls home, and a host of other venues that could eventually lead to a host of regrets for Mac users who believe they are invulnerable, so take no pre-cautions.

    I’d much rather hear the message that, we, Mac OS X users, are pretty damn smug and secure out the box, but also vigilant about maintaining our security against the “sh*t that happens”. Like your pyscho boyfriend/girlfriend installing key logging or monitoring software on your machine; or the vendor you purchased “brand new cool app” from also included “brand new tell us what web sites this user goes to” software; or that clever script kiddie who created the new Word Macro Virus, learned how to use a case statement to determine how a virus should behave based on the OS its activated under.

    Sh*t happens! Wouldn’t it be better to be vigilant now, than regretful latter? Especially since we’re inviting a whole lot of not so nice people with very levels of intelligences and morals into our homes.

    Besides, there’s some pretty cool Mac security applications out there. Little Snitch rocks. Not because its ever protected me against a virus, but because it also protects me against all those not so trust worthy vendors who feel like they have the right to install software that occasionally phones home to a server; and could eventually be adapted to include any number of details about your computing experience (not just serial numbers).

  5. I agree with Paul regarding opportunities for hacking if, for whatever reason, someone has turned on their sharing functions. Someone else with access to the computer could do that and, at that point, the Mac can be open to others. Still, not the same as the possibilities on Windows, relatively speaking.

    Further, almost all of us know that Macs DO get viruses: Microsoft Office-related (and other Windows) viruses. I have had a number of Word viruses which can eventually hurt files or, if transferred to a co-worker, can hurt their computer which hurts Office files, which hurts the project, which can hurt me. Relatively speaking, these viruses are not generally a big deal unless we pass them on to someone with whom we do business or damage someone else’s computer. Sure, perhaps it didn’t damage our Mac outside of Microsoft-related things at our point or with others, but it can still affect us later by doing damage to others.

    Well, seems relative to me.

    If I am running a Mac Server and a folder is infested with Windows viruses because it is serving a particular application on a Windows network, that DOES affect me by then being present to reinfest the cleaned-up Windows machines.

    Relatively speaking, it is not a big deal for my Mac Server. Practically speaking, it can mess up some of the network the Mac is tasked to watch over. That messes up the service my Mac provides. That hurts the image/reputation of the Mac itself.

    Of course, that is probably just relative compared to a full infestation that would damage the actual system, which does not occur. Still, it seems relative – not absolute – to me…

  6. Technically speaking

    The Mac is susceptible to spyware that’s installed and Mac’s can be a carrier of Windows viruses attached to files.

    Mac programs that come from Microshet are susceptible to viruses and malware.

    Mac’s are also susceptible to trojans, but it’s effects require a bit of social engineering and is limited to the “user”.

    Of course downloading and giving a admin password to anything without trusting the source is just asking to be owned.

    Also Mac’s use other companies software, like Apache (very secure) and Javascript (not very) integrated into the OS and applications like Safari, any vulnerability in these programs affects Mac OS X security.

    So Mac OS X is very secure, and Apple is making steps in the direction to thwart social engineering and tricks to get Mac users to run malicious code.

    The main thing is malware doesn’t come on Mac’s uninvited or “fresh out of the box” like a PC is.

    However there is a severe hole in Mac OS X security amour, and that comes from a trojan “helper” program or gizmo that runs all the time and looks for a “sudo window” to open, like a legit installation for example.

    Once it detects this window opens, it can gain control.

    Another vulnerable is a program that is fine the first time it’s downloaded, but secretly contacts a server and downloads a more vicious version of itself, like the root kit “Opener” for instance.

    Little Snitch is a outgoing firewall that catches these little secret internet connections. It’s highly advised to use it. Not only to catch this, but also if a real exploit occurs it can’t download or pass itself on.

    Another vulnerability is giving a application a admin password, instead of a app asking Mac OS X to ask you to open a sudo window.

    What happens now is a app knows your admin password, and yes it can pretty much do what it wants after getting full access, but it can send the admin password over the internet and turn on a few services, allowing a hacker to gain control of your machine.

    If a app has no way of knowing a admin password and Mac OS X controls this information and grants access instead of giving a app a blank check, then the damage a malicious app can do is only limited to the time the sudo window is open.

    Anyway I might not be a 100% right on, but I feel Mac OS X security can be better that it is.

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