It’s almost impossible to unknowingly infect Apple Macs with a virus

“In January, four critical security vulnerabilities were discovered in the Apple QuickTime and iTunes applications, raising security concerns over the increasingly popular media player formats,” Thomas Zizzo writes for CRN. “Solution providers said customers need to be aware of the risks these applications might bring, but expressed faith that Mac OS X remains secure, at least for now. The Mac generally is called a platform that is secure from exploits and viruses in part because the user base of Macs is very small compared with that of the Windows PC, making the Mac community a less attractive target. Not everyone sees it that way, however. ‘I really think that is a misnomer,’ said Ian Blanton, director of consulting for Tech Superpowers, an Apple solution provider in Boston. Blanton said viruses can reach any system connected to the Internet, regardless of the operating system. And the fact that there has not been a known, live virus that has successfully propagated through the Mac OS X poses a challenge that could be too good for some hackers to pass up, he added. ‘That makes Macs an even bigger target,’ he said.”

“Apple’s VAR partners aren’t too concerned at this point about exploits, viruses or worms being spread on Macs, but they agree that security shouldn’t be ignored. ‘It’s always a concern,’ said Alberto Palacios, president of Create More, San Francisco. It’s easy to write a virus for the Mac; the difficult thing is making it propagate, Palacios said. Anytime an application is installed on a Mac, several pop-up windows will ask the user if they are sure they want to install and run the program. Unless a hacker physically has access to the computer, it’s almost impossible to unknowingly infect it with a virus, he said,” Zizzo writes. “Apple takes security very seriously, said George Swords, marketing manager for PowerMacPac, an Apple reseller in Portland, Ore. Mac users should always have the latest software updates installed, and antivirus security software should be used to guard against forwarding infected e-mails to friends that have PCs, he said.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Good Jobs, a writer got it right! Congratulations to Mr. Zizzo for presenting the facts about Mac security in a clear and balanced manner and to CRN for publishing it! Please click the full article link.

[UPDATE: 5:05pm EST: Fixed fixed double double.]

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27 Comments

  1. Here’s what I wrote him (short and to the point):

    Sir;

    What a pleasure to read a well-researched article that actually conveys the appropriate information on the topic in an accurate manner.

    It’s unbelievable that you didn’t use all the cover-your-ass buzzwords that most ignorant authors of Mac technology articles use: “less-prone to viruses”, “small market share”, “cult of Apple users”, etc.

    I say the above in a positive way. Congratulations on authoring a fair, well-balanced article on this topic.

    I will recommend your writing — and this article in particular — to my friends and associates.

  2. Interesting article there MacDude. I agree we should all be more wary of third party apps that have to take the admin password. I would like to hear from someone at Apple as to what the necessities are for this access to the system…

  3. Ok, probably 20 million copies of OSX out there in 5 years

    Windows Vista Beta: 8500 copies out, and it took 5 hours for the first virus.

    Kind of blows the the security by obscurity argument out of the water, doesn’t it?

    Not really. Sure, there’s only 8500 copies out now, but the hackers believe that Vista will be the dominant OS soon. Best to get in some hacking practice and be ready.

    Not that I buy the “security through obscurity” bull$#!+, mind you. Mass-propagating worms may be difficult to pull off with a smaller install base, but if Macs weren’t secure, you’d think we see some trojans or spyware written for them. After all, we Mac folks have plenty of money to steal.

  4. Ok, I will post Seahawk’s explanation re: security through obscurity

    2 posts due to length.

    It’s just basic math, folks.

    Beginning of quote:

    There are over millions of OS X machines around the world for a virus to make the turn and visit you in minutes after you are connected.
    To a virus a machine is an IP number, AND, as Macs can inoculate a Windows machine just passing the virus or trojan around without being affected the same thing could do a Windows machine.

    A virus is – most of the times – just a piece of C or C++ code. It only happens that the code it exploits is Windows only but there is ABSOLUTELY NO TECHNICAL ISSUES to make a multi-platform virus and infect – if it can – whatever platform.

    People – and you – when they try to figure out the situation they employ a VERY WRONG mental picture. They compare Windows – OS X usage as people at a stadium. The Windows stadium is full and the OS X almost empty. They reason that *obviously* if someone sneezes you are more likely to get the flu in the Windows stadium than in the OS X one.

    What people do not realize is that there are NO TWO STADIUM. It is the very same crowded stadium for all of us, the internet, and each seat has an IP number. If someone sneezes only the ones with deficitary immune Windows system get the virus. Others could not care less.

    The virus will visit EVERY AND EACH one at the internet stadium, and infect the weak ones, which happen to be as well the majority at the interned stadium.

    Sure, there is the exponential nature of virus spreading that is directly related to the number of infected machines.

    But the only difference due to the sheer number of machines around is the highest peak rate of infection. While Windows at highest spread suffer from an infection in a matter of seconds after first connection (MSBlaster had an average infection time of 29 seconds for an unprotected PC but had an rate in terms of hours at the beginning.

    Well, maybe an OS X virus will infect you in matters of hours while connected but be sure of one thing: YOU WOULD AND WILL BE INFECTED if an OS X virus was released in the wild.

    Numbers or market share in a very stupid justification that M$ PR took out of the hat to explain why they are so weak security wise.
    They are weak because they can be attacked efficiently by a hacker exploiting a huge number of OS weaknesses, not because there are lots of machines.

    If Windows was bullet proof they could be in the BILLIONS and not suffer from viruses.

    Incidentally, even if you reverse the market share figures between Windows and OS X you STILL would get more infection on Windows than on OS X if OS X will hold against a successful virus the same rate of infection of BSD Unix – being practically that.

  5. 2nd part of Seahawks explanation;

    Hopefully , will not have to do this again, but somehow I doubt that.

    Beginning of 2nd part of quote:

    BriA: sorry, there is no ‘security through obscurity’. It is a misused term turned into a PR spin by detractors of the Mac relating it – wrongly – to market share. At least here let’s put things straight.

    The term “security through obscurity” has no relation whatsoever with number of machines but to unavailability of a particular OS API. The security comes from the less know or not know at all details about an OS. If you do not know how it works then it is SECURE because it is OBSCURE.
    Security through obscurity could be achieved even with a ball park of BILLIONS of machines online if the manufacturer and OS provider succeeds in not making the source code of the OS available and/or prevent reverse engineering.

    This, obviously, is not at all the case with OS X, with its BSD Unix guts. Nothing could be more shining for a cracker than a Unix based OS.
    In this sense, Windows is more obscure than OS X as Windows has some innards that are not publicly available while Darwin – the OS X guts – is an Open Source project. Nothing could be less obscure than OS X.

    Having said this, ie, that “security through obscurity” is an IT nonsense when talking about anything Unix, OS X included, the security OS X enjoys, luckily for all of us, has truly nothing to do with OS X having a small market share. The only thing this will have an impact on is the infection rate at its peak should a virus for OS X emerge one day.

    The inherent pre-condition to make virus making meaningful targeting a particular OS is how easy is to spread a virus. In order to do that the virus HAS to find the very same configuration machine after machine. If a slight change in what the virus NEEDS to find an a computer in order to infect it should be present then the virus operational mode would be undermined and probably prevent infection and/or spreading.

    Now, Windows ensures that all and other PCs around are essentially the copy-cat installation of one another. On the Unix world this does not happen and it is inherent to Unix. Finding two Unix run machines with the very same configuration amounts almost to a miracle. This alone explains why on Unix and Linux the rate of infection is a single digit even at peak infection, roughly 5%.

    On Windows it is well over 60%. This is what makes Windows the favorite target for crackers. Windows would sport higher infections with respect to OS X even if Windows market share was at 5% and OS X at 95%. Crackers would STILL go after Windows as they would get more machines infected there (both as absolute value and in percentage), hence more outcome, than with Unix or OS X.

    Windows, thanks Bill, is the best ever anti-virus product of all: it attracts them all. With Windows around, a cracker would have to be stupid to go after another OS. AND this will not change even with a reversal of fortune turning Windows into a niche 5% market.

    You want to infect lots of machines? Go after Windows, no matter the market share.

  6. To boil Seahawks explanation down to a sentence.

    It is inherently easier to infect, and reinfect a Windows system to due the basic structure of the system.

    Will it be so with Vista? Who knows. But everything I read leads me to believe that Vista will not be “all new” . If it was, they could make it as secure as OSX. But that is apparently not the case just like what happened with all the various flavors of Windows.

    Each one of those was supposed to be “THE ONE” that will finally be secure THIS TIME. Did not happen because of their installed base of customers require backwards compatibility which means compromising the system.

    And from what I read, it is happening again with Vista.

  7. I don’t buy the ‘security through obscurity’ myth either, but MacDude has a MAJOR point and I would encourage anyone to read his article.

    Macaday: Interesting article there MacDude. I agree we should all be more wary of third party apps that have to take the admin password. I would like to hear from someone at Apple as to what the necessities are for this access to the system…

    Agreed….

    Thanks for the article MacDude!

    I’ve said it before an I’ll say it again – If you are using Windows Media Player for the Mac, you’re running a piece of spyware. But then again, you have to consider it’s source.

  8. The way the first Mac OS X virus will appear is that it will lie in wait for a real input of the admin password for a different program, get under the hood (with the PW in hand and take over. It will email itself to others and do the same thing.

    Mark my words, IT WILL HAPPEN!!!

  9. “The way the first Mac OS X virus will appear is that it will lie in wait for a real input of the admin password for a different program, get under the hood (with the PW in hand and take over. It will email itself to others and do the same thing.

    Mark my words, IT WILL HAPPEN!!!”

    I keep waiting…..good luck!

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