Mossberg: Is there a virus threat for Apple Macs?

This week Walt Mossberg’s mailbox contained a question about security software for Macs. Mossberg writes a weekly tech Q&A column for The Wall Street Journal.

Reader’s question: There’s been a lot of press lately about increased virus activity on the Macintosh platform. Should Mac owners now be running the same kinds of security software that Windows owners use?

Mossberg’s answer: There is no sudden security crisis on the Apple Macintosh platform. In fact, for average Mac users, there isn’t a security threat of any significance, at least not yet. It is laughable to compare the real, massive and burdensome security problems on Windows with the largely theoretical security problem on the Mac… As of today, there have been exactly two documented, successful pieces of malicious software — viruses, trojan horses, worms — that affected users of the Mac OS X operating system, since it was released in 2001. And these two failed to spread much, affecting probably a few dozen people, and doing no harm. I expect there to be a small number of additional Mac viruses this year.

By contrast, there are over 100,000 reported viruses for Windows, some of which have affected millions of people and have done significant economic damage. As for spyware, I know of no documented cases on Mac OS X, while there are certainly thousands on Windows. These Windows viruses and spyware can’t run on the Mac operating system, even on Macs powered by the same Intel processors used by Windows PCs… Security firms are saying that the discovery of these vulnerabilities in the Mac has increased sharply lately. They say that based on past patterns, this should yield a sharp increase in the number of Mac viruses in coming years. But even a ‘sharp’ increase could well mean under 50 viruses by 2008. So my advice to Mac users is that at the moment, I see no reason to buy and run security software, which is in itself costly and can degrade your computing experience… Just turn on Apple’s built-in firewall and relax. There is one exception: If you are running Windows on one of the new Intel Macs, you are just like a Windows user, and you must run Windows security programs when using Windows.

There is more in Mossberg’s full answer here.
[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Whit” for the heads up.]

[Newsweek magazine calls Mr. Mossberg “the most powerful arbiter of consumer tastes in the computer world today.” Time magazine calls him “the most influential computer journalist.” And Rolling Stone calls him “the most powerful columnist in technology.” The Washington Post declared Mr. Mossberg “one of the most powerful men in the high-tech world” and “a one-man media empire whose prose can launch a new product.” And the New York Times calls him a “protean critic of the new economy’s tools.” Mr. Mossberg was awarded the 1999 Loeb award for Commentary, the only technology writer to be so honored.]

MacDailyNews Take: It’s nice to see the truth beginning to come out via reputable sources.

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Related articles:
‘Mac security’ garbage reports continue to proliferate – May 10, 2006
ZDNet: Reduce OS X security threats – ignore security software – May 05, 2006
McAfee announces virus protection for Intel-based Apple Macs – May 05, 2006
BusinessWeek: New Apple Mac ads stir up Mac security overreaction – May 04, 2006
Unix expert: Mac OS X much more secure than Windows; recent Mac OS X security stories are media hype – May 03, 2006
Macs and viruses: the true story – May 02, 2006
Anti-Mac FUD machine shifts into overdrive – May 01, 2006
FUD Alert: Viruses don’t catch up to the Mac – May 01, 2006
BusinessWeek: Apple should hire security czar to combat uninformed media FUD – March 09, 2006
Spate of recent Mac security stories signal that Microsoft, others getting nervous – March 06, 2006
Mafiasoft: Microsoft to charge $50 per year for security service to protect Windows – February 07, 2006
Why pay Symantec for flawed ‘security’ app designed to protect Apple Macs from nonexistent threats? – December 27, 2005
‘Highly critical’ flaw in discovered in Symantec AntiVirus for Mac OS X – December 21, 2005
Why Symantec’s ‘scare tactics’ don’t worry Mac users – September 28, 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
Symantec’s Mac OS X claims dismissed as nonsense, FUD – March 22, 2005


  1. Are you people paying attention?:

    “There is one exception: If you are running Windows on one of the new Intel Macs, you are just like a Windows user, and you must run Windows security programs when using Windows.”

    Once you get invaded on the Windows side of your Macintosh computer, how long before it migrates into the whole machine? Especially when Steve makes it so easy with a one click access to Windows thru the much anticipated Leopard?

    Get ready, get prepared. All the horrors of malware so well known to PCers are ON THE WAY!

    I repeat my question: Are you paying attention?

  2. This article was posted to the web during last night’s BMac meeting … and just when we were talking security, too. Albert started out with a lexicon – what makes a virus vs a trojan, etc. Then proceeded to history – nothing for OS X until this year’s trojan and worm, both of which required user interaction to be installed. Then on to anti-virus – you need to run one if you interact with Windows systems regularly. (ClamXav is free/OSS, eats minimal resources, and is about as good as any other) Then to reasonable precautions.
    Do not run User tasks from an Admin account!!!
    -> Use strong passwords
    -=> Do not re-use passwords on multiple sites/accounts
    -=> Use your Keychain or some other encrypted DB to store passwords
    –=> Investigate Keychain Explorer (Utilities) for additional
    -> READ the warning messages before you click the “OK” button
    -> Close any ports you are not using (open when needed)
    -=> use Bonjour Browser to check open ports on your LAN
    -> Consider using “Parental Controls” to limit account capabilities
    -=> block Terminal use if you don’t need that program on that account
    -> … OK, I don’t have my notes right here … but there was more.

  3. 4 years, on 24h/7d. Not a single security issue. NADA.

    No ports opened, nor need to. If the Mac is practically invisible on the net and does not *scream* its presence the only possible threats are the so-called *social* scams.

    For that, protection comes from sound net behavior.

  4. Yes I am paying attention. It will be exactly never before the windows viruses on an Intel dual boot invade the OS X side because the Windows boot can’t even see the OS X file system you tool.

    When Leopard comes out it will still only be Windows programmes in their ’emulation layer’ which are susceptible by definition because a Windows virus can’t understand OS X code. Otherwise they would be able to infect OS X now.

  5. How Much?

    How Much are you getting paid to ask How Much Mossberg is getting paid?

    How Much do you think a WSJ journalist asks to pass on corporate PR as news? Whatever figure you come up with, I’m sure it’s more than How Much you get to ask How Much.

    How Much? You’re a cheap bastard. I just want to know by How Much?

  6. Hey … Johnny Troll is heard from again!

    Should you happen to get a Windows virus, it will not “migrate”. It could mess up anything in its partition, which would really annoy you and force you to re-install.

    Yeah … we are paying attention. Oh … and not planning on going that route anyway – too much potential grief!

  7. John,

    are you a troll or just plain ignorant?

    A Windows virus is a Window executable. Windows running on the Mac cannot touch the partition where OS X is installed.

    The virus would infect the Windows partition, period. No spread.
    Not only that, Windows can “run in a box” if one uses virtualization: as if Windows was network nurtured.

    So you ask “how long will before it migrates”? What about few years longer that the life of the Universe?
    It’s the OS, there is no such a thing like a computer virus. Once it has infected the Windows partition, it has infected the Windows partition, it has infected the Windows partition. Capish?

    Moreover, with virtualization Windows does not even need a partition, it believes it does but it works with a virtual disk, that is a file. Delete it and copy the backup: voila. Not even need to re-install Windows as in the PC-Windows-only sad world: the time to rename the bck file.

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