How to avoid malware-stuffed computers: Get a Mac

James Coates (askjimcoates@gmail.com) tries to answer questions for The Chicgao Tribune. Below, he totally avoids the obvious answer:

Q.I am at my wits’ end with my two sons’ IBM laptop computers that are riddled with spyware and viruses to the extent that the computers are almost unusable. They use these computers a lot for gaming, surfing the Web, instant messaging and, of course, schoolwork. Ha!!

I have purchased software that takes care of viruses and software that takes care of spyware, but it never seemed to work the way it should. I don’t want to add more software to the mix and would rather have a disk that I can use on any computer that disinfects the entire machine. They have so much garbage on their computers that I feel adding an anti-virus/anti-spyware program will just complicate things. — Trey Reynolds

A. The problem here, Mr. R., is that you are describing a magic bullet, and magic bullets go into the same mythical category as free lunches and quick fixes. If somebody could invent a DVD that could be inserted into any computer and clean it up to pristine condition, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet would have new company atop the Fortune 500’s billionaires list.

I can, however, offer a couple of suggestions, and even though you are down on getting more software fixes, I’ll describe a new program that, as one Web-surfs, simply stops the computer from downloading anything through the browser. It’s Aura, by ATKA Software. The software pre-emptively blocks all of those tiny memory-clogging applications that are downloaded to make Web sites deliver many of their features, such as animations, sounds and videos. As you know, some of these applets also can be used by spyware operators to do nasty things such as monitor and report on which Web sites one visits, redirect default home page to a sales site and even monitor keystrokes.

The reason that I suggest you try a 30-day free trial of the new $70 Aura product is that it will give your two lads a dramatic look in real time at all of the stuff that Web muggers try to slip by them and, one hopes, scare them onto the straight and narrow. As you say: Ha!! Boys will be boys.

Still, running Aura will stop them from making a lot of mistakes even though they clearly are wont to risk-taking, which is as common as candy bars among Web game-playing youngsters.

The problem with Aura — also its strength — is that whenever anything is allowed to be written to the hard drive, the user gets a nagging pop-up message warning of possible dangers and asking for permission to accept the download. Most other anti-spyware and anti-virus products spare most interruptions by scanning the hard drive at the end of each day to find problematic downloads.

So, it doesn’t hurt to run Aura and a traditional anti-virus package.

Meanwhile, you can eliminate a lot of this stuff by deleting the temporary folder where Windows stores most of the applets that are downloaded. Click on Tools in the Microsoft Internet Explorer menu, and select Internet Options. In the next display, open the General tab and you will find buttons to Delete Files from the Temporary Internet directory and to Delete Cookies in a separate operation. Cookies carry automatic log-on information and sometimes are necessary, but the Temp files are most certainly expendable.

Finally, it’s not a magic bullet disk, but the DVD that came with those laptops holding the Windows XP operating system recovery tool can be used to get the machines back to their unsullied beginning state. You’ll have to back up data files and any additional software you installed, but it may sound worth the bother.

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As you might imagine, our answer differs from Coates’ in that it solves the problem. Coates knows better, by the way, as he has recommended Macs to avoid malware in the past although he couldn’t seem to wrap his head around the fact that “Security Via Obscurity” is a myth. We’ll tack on our standard myth-busting after we properly answer Coates’ reader’s question:

A. The problem here, Mr. R., is that you bought the wrong computer. Specifically, you’ve doomed your sons with the wrong operating system, the shoddy and insecure kludge known as Microsoft Windows. What you are describing is a magic bullet, otherwise known as Apple Macintosh.

We can offer one suggestion that’s guaranteed to work: sell your Windows computers on eBay or bring them to a recycling facility for dismantling if you wish to spare others from future futility and frustration. Now, you are free. Proceed to your local Apple store or visit the online Apple Store. Buy your sons MacBooks. If they need to run Windows applications, you can run Windows on the MacBook, but keep the Windows install off the ‘Net. Your should only access the ‘Net when running Mac OS X. You and your sons will find that surfing with impunity is totally liberating!

As you can see we, unlike The Chicgao Trib’s paid answer monkey Coates (askjimcoates@gmail.com), have actually answered Mr. Reynolds with an actual solution to his problem.

Chicago Tribune’s online “letter to the editor” form here.

Our usual “Security Via Obscurity” myth-busting:
Security via Obscurity” is a myth. Mac OS X has zero (0) viruses. For over five years and counting. No Mac OS X users affected outside of a lab with old, non-updated Mac OS versions that they intentionally infected.

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.

Macs account for roughly 10% of the world’s personal computer users — (some say as much as 16%) — so the first half of the myth doesn’t even stand up to scrutiny. 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 dictate the numbers of viruses. The fact that Mac OS X has zero (0) viruses totally 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 CEO Steve Jobs at WWDC 2006, there are “19 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.

MacDailyNews Note: Happy Labor Day! Due to Labor Day, a U.S. holiday, MacDailyNews will see limited posting today. We will return in full force tomorrow, Tuesday, September 5th, 2006.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
CNNMoney’s back-to-school guide: Get a Mac – September 02, 2006
My switch from Windows XP to Apple Mac OS X – August 30, 2006
$399 for Windows Vista Ultimate?! (Hint: Get a Mac) – August 29, 2006
MSNBC: Apple Mac Pro is the ultimate desktop computer – August 28, 2006
The Seattle Times: Apple Macbook is best computer for school – August 26, 2006
Development approaches of Mac OS X Leopard vs. Windows Vista yield very different results – August 15, 2006
Analyst: Apple’s new Mac OS X Leopard sets new bar, leaves Microsoft’s Vista in the dust – August 08, 2006
Symantec researcher: At this time, there are no file-infecting viruses that can infect Mac OS X – July 13, 2006
Sophos: Apple Mac OS X’s security record unscathed; Windows Vista malware just a matter of time – July 07, 2006
MSNBC’s Krakow: Apple’s MacBook ‘the best notebook computer I’ve ever used’ – June 28, 2006
Washington Times: Apple 17-inch MacBook Pro the ‘who’s-your-daddy’ of notebooks – June 06, 2006
Computerworld: Microsoft Windows Vista a distant second-best to Apple Mac OS X – June 02, 2006
Chicago Tribune: Apple’s new Intel-based Mac mini might make you switch from Windows – March 07, 2006
Thurrott: ‘I highly recommend Apple’s new Intel-based iMac’ – January 31, 2006
Mossberg: New Intel-based iMac the best consumer desktop with the best OS and best software bundle – January 18, 2006
Analyst: Windows Vista may still impress many consumers because they have not seen Apple’s Mac OS X – January 05, 2006

30 Comments

  1. “If somebody could invent a DVD that could be inserted into any computer and clean it up to pristine condition, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet would have new company atop the Fortune 500’s billionaires list.”

    Actually, shouldn’t that read Steve Jobs as being near the top of the Fortune 500’s billionaires list?

    I’ve got a DVD called Tiger 10.4 at home….of course, you need a Mac to use it. That’s my “magic bullet”.

  2. Q.I am at my wits’ end with my two sons’ IBM laptop computers that are riddled with spyware and viruses to the extent that the computers are almost unusable. They use these computers a lot for gaming, surfing the Web, instant messaging and, of course, schoolwork. Ha!!

    Your answer was to spend ANOTHER $70! How wise is that???

    Here is the real answer.

    A. The problem here, Mr. R., is that you bought the wrong computer. Specifically, you’ve doomed your sons with the wrong operating system, the shoddy and insecure kludge known as Microsoft Windows. What you are describing is a magic bullet, otherwise known as Apple Macintosh.

    We can offer one suggestion that’s guaranteed to work: sell your Windows computers on eBay or bring them to a recycling facility for dismantling if you wish to spare others from future futility and frustration. Now, you are free. Proceed to your local Apple store or visit the online Apple Store. Buy your sons MacBooks. If they need to run Windows applications, you can run Windows on the MacBook, but keep the Windows install off the ‘Net. Your should only access the ‘Net when running Mac OS X. You and your sons will find that surfing with impunity is totally liberating!

    “If you want to play games, get a Windows-based PC, then suffer. If you want to get something done, get a Macintosh.”

  3. MacBill: I grew up in Minnesota, lived in Illinois for 15 years, and now live in Wisconsin. I have travelled all over the US, and the world. To keep the answer short — you are wrong. We have plenty of Macs here and are not slow or backwards. Sure, we have our share of non-tech types here just like anywhere else does, but what you say is totally offensive and inaccurate.

    Whatever. You just make youself look dumb saying things like that.

  4. I don’t think you should be so hard on the writer here. Mr. R. wrote in with an honest question. It’s not worth bashing his buying decision after the fact. While, a Mac would have been the obvious way to avoid the problem, I don’t think Mr. R. cares to spend another $600 or more right now. The writer of the article simply gave Mr. R. the best solution he could come up with that didn’t involve getting a whole new computer. For some families, even a Mac Mini is quite the expense!

  5. I do not judge Coates by being old and gray. However, in this case, based on Coates’ body of “work,” his time (if he ever had one) has passed. The Chicago Tribune would do well to find a tech person who is more “with it” in terms of today’s personal computing and tech gadget landscape.

    James Coates is a disservice to readers of The Chicago Tribune.

  6. James Coates missed something very important about the question: his correspondent had an IBM laptop! IBM hasn’t made laptops in years. If he really does have an IBM laptop, it would have to be an outdated machine, and that means he would have an outdated and unsupported version of Windows.

    MacDailyNews’ advice is good, but this guy doesn’t even have a clue what sort of machine he bought. If he goes out to buy an Apple, what will he bring home?

  7. “This is the problem with the midwest. Nobody in the midwest has even heard of the Macintosh. “

    Then who’s buying all the Macs from the three Apple retail stores in the Twin Cities? (Not to mention several CompUSA stores, Microcenter, and Apple Specialist stores.)

  8. Isn’t your obscurity myth counter-argument weak?
    One could argue: Why would anyone change their virus-making techniques to attack a operating system in the minority . Therefore, obscurity may be a reason for lack of Mac viruses, etc.

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