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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. Johhny Pierson said

    “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?”

    Yes I’ve been dutifully paying attention to what a complete moron you are.

    You obviously don’t understand 2 very basic principles

    The mechanics behind partitioning

    and the fact that virus’s designed for a windows operating system by their very nature cannot affect a mac.

    I already own a G5 iMac…..but If I buy an Intel based mac (which I will for sure sometime soon) and I install boot camp and use it to play games and any other application that might be “only” PC but do all my internet and emailing on my mac side I’ll be sound as a house…and you’ll be what you have been all along…completely F**king WRONG

  4. This is a fascinating study on irrational human behavior. If someone tells the truth over and over again some primates will, for some odd reason, think they must be getting paid.

    Silly monkeys.

  5. Those two pieces of “successful” virusware were NOT successful. They didn’t even work on the internet. Bluetooth virus? Give me a break.

    But that’s a minor note, overall a good answer to the reader’s question.

    PS, if you want to know WHY Mossberg answered the question… it’s because people ASKED it. Duh.

  6. Mossberg was as harshly critical about Apple as anyone in the 1990’s. It is only within the last year and a half or so that he quit recommending Windows to his readers. Read him regularly and you will realize he calls ’em like he sees ’em with intelligence, flair, and above all, honesty. I’ll get tired of reading his comments about the Mac when the Mac has 50% of the computer market, or his comments quit speaking the truth.


  7. FACTS: Giveme 5 persons afeccted by a virus in a mac, and I can give you millions of users and companies affected by windows viruses. THAT IS A FACT, not a opinion.

    STATISTICS: there are more windows users, that is why there are more people affected…WRONG.
    100% of windows users must have anti virus protection to survive inthe internet and almost any network, also, they need to pacth their computers in order to make it work safely.
    There are only two users off the 4% Mac market affected by Mac viruses, and that was not a critical problem since the virus did not affected files or the OS.

  8. Unfortunately, Walt is one voice in a sea of FUD being generated now. It’s a shame, but ignorant “news” editors need to fill space and will print just about anything without questioning the motives of the story supplier.

    Even so, that question sure sounds like a softball tossed by Apple’s PR department. The answer is still true none-the-less.

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