Seattle Times FUD: ‘there are a great number of viruses that can afflict Apple computers’

Patrick Marshall answers reader’s tech questions for The Seattle Times:

Q: I’m considering purchasing my first Apple iMac computer, the type that can run both Apple software and Windows software. How should I protect my system from viruses, scams and intrusions under this duo system? If I communicate through e-mail via the Apple side will I be protected from viruses? I’ve read that the only reason there aren’t many viruses for the Apple is because the hackers haven’t been that interested in “attacking” that system. Is that true or is there a difference in how the different systems communicate with the Internet environment?

Phil, Tacoma

A: You definitely want to install and maintain up-to-date anti-virus software for whatever operating system you’re going to use. Yes, there is some truth to the notion that there are fewer viruses that attack Apple Computer systems, in part because the operating system is less popular. It’s understandable that a virus writer would want to make the biggest splash possible. But there are a great number of viruses that can afflict Apple computers. For more information, you may want to take a look at SecureMac.com.

At the same time, it’s true some operating systems are more vulnerable than others. There are reportedly more vulnerabilities that can be exploited in Windows XP than Mac OS X. But that can be taken as a challenge by virus writers, too. Until the first virus appeared for Mac OS X, there was quite a bit of speculation about how long it would take. I’m sure there were a number of virus writers competing to see who could be the first.

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “BillH” for the heads up.]
The Seattle Times, huh? What a joke. A sad joke, but a joke nonetheless. Seriously, people are reading this idiot for tech advice! Granted, most of his readers probably work for Microsoft, which may actually explain a lot of things…

Anyway, there’s less misinformation and FUD thrown around at the bi-weekly Dvorak-Enderle-Thurrott coffee klatch than by Marshall in this mess of an answer. This isn’t Marshall’s first time down this road, either, See: Q&A Columnist uses ‘security through obscurity’ myth to defend Windows vs. Mac on virus issue – October 04, 2003

You’ll definitely want to think long and hard before installing, maintaining, risking stability, and wasting processor cycles on meaningless anti-virus software for Mac OS X. Do it if you want to fruitlessly attempt to help protect the indefensible Windows from viruses you might pass along that do not affect your Mac. Why pay Symantec et al for flawed “security” applications designed to protect Apple Macs from nonexistent threats?

“There are reportedly more vulnerabilities that can be exploited in Windows XP than Mac OS X,” Marshall wrote. We’re still laughing at that one. Patrick Marshall: Master of Understatement and General Cluelessness.

Mac OS X has zero (0) viruses; doing the Macarena or similar dances in AV company labs doesn’t affect real users. “Security via Obscurity” is a myth. For over five years and counting, no Mac OS X users have been 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 just because less people use OS X, making it less of a target. By design, Mac OS X is also simply more secure than Windows. 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 solely 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? According to Apple CEO Steve Jobs at WWDC 2006, there are “19 million Mac OS X users” in the world. Yet, still, there are zero (0) viruses. Quite the mathematical conundrum, huh? 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.

Contact info:
Becky Bisbee, Seattle Times Business Editor: bbisbee@seattletimes.com
Patrick Marshall: pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net

Related articles:
Symantec Antivirus software flaw allows hackers to seize control of PCs without user interaction – May 25, 2006
Sophos anti-virus software mistakes real files for pests, breaks Mac OS X systems – February 22, 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
Symantec details flaws in its antivirus software – March 30, 2005

Symantec details ‘Macarena’ Mac OS X ‘proof-of-concept virus’ – November 03, 2006
Microsoft’s Windows is inherently more vulnerable to severe malware than Apple’s Mac OS X – August 23, 2006
Chicago Tribune falls for the ‘Security Via Obscurity’ myth – August 14, 2006
Get a Mac: Viruses, spyware cost U.S. consumers $7.8 billion over last two years – 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
Gartner analyst tries to propagate discounted Mac OS X ‘security via obscurity’ myth via BBC – July 06, 2006
Sophos Security: Dump Windows, Get a Mac – July 05, 2006
Apple: ‘Get a Mac. Say ‘Buh-Bye’ to viruses’ – June 01, 2006
Analyst: McAfee’s recent Apple Mac security report is ‘sloppy scaremongering’ – May 08, 2006
Apple: ‘Leap-A’ not a virus; only accept files from vendors and Web sites that you know and trust – February 16, 2006
FBI: Viruses, spyware, other computer-related crimes cost U.S. businesses $67.2 billion per year – February 01, 2006
Security company Sophos: Apple Mac the best route for security for the masses – December 06, 2005
Apple Macs are inherently safer and more secure than Microsoft Windows – November 22, 2005
BusinessWeek columnist propagates discounted ‘Apple Mac security via obscurity myth’ – September 06, 2005
Hackers already targeting viruses for Microsoft’s Windows Vista – August 04, 2005
16-percent of computer users are unaffected by viruses, malware because they use Apple Macs – June 15, 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
USA Today calls iMac G5 ‘exquisite’ but implies Mac OS X more secure than Windows due to obscurity – September 30, 2004
Another columnist trots out Mac OS X ‘Security through Obscurity’ myth – April 03, 2004
Gates: Windows ‘by far the most secure’ system; tries to use ‘Mac OS X secure through obscurity’ myth – January 27, 2004
Q&A Columnist uses ‘security through obscurity’ myth to defend Windows vs. Mac on virus issue – October 04, 2003
Columnist tries the ‘security through obscurity’ myth to defend Windows vs. Macs on virus front – October 01, 2003
New York Times: Mac OS X ‘much more secure than Windows XP’ – September 18, 2003
Shattering the Mac OS X ‘security through obscurity’ myth – August 28, 2003
Is Mac OS X really inherently more secure than Windows? – August 26, 2003
Virus and worm problems not just due to market share; Windows inherently insecure vs. Mac OS X – August 24, 2003

64 Comments

  1. I have an idea:

    Just between all of us, lets agree that there are now 2 Mac viruses. Yes, I know that they are both lame ones, and haven’t affected any users, but lets just concede that point.

    Now there is no need for the “OMG, Its the first Mac virus, you Mac users aren’t so smug now”.

    And all the virus writers can get back to the goal of 200,000 Windows viruses by the end of the year.

    200,000 to 2*

    * Sorta, Kinda

  2. Here is a thought WIndows Fan base

    Write a virus that directly effects the mac community. It should be easy to propegate since you can let it lose on a .mac server and watch the sparks fly. I challenge any of you to write a bit of code to do this. Until you can STFU

    I have seen all the evidence i need and until it changes the windoze fan boys can go bake themselves.

    If windows is so much better why does vista already have huge and well known security holes, they even had to stop production on the final product because they caught a hole last minute.

    How many more holes did they not catch?

    Good luck

  3. iLie (or is it iPeterson?):

    Even if you were to count the “known exploits” and “known lab viruses” for OS X (even the ones that have been “demonstrated” but not publically released) –

    The total is about 5. That’s virus, malware, adware, wireless card hacks.

    Which, to date, have been used against innocent victims approximately ZERO times.

    Now please remind me, approximately how many innocent users of Windows PC’s have had viruses and malware detected, selected, infected, and inspected on their machines?

    Would you say more than ZERO?

    More than 100?

    More than 1,000?

    <gulp> More than 10,000?

    You know, if 1, if just ONE person using Windows gets his machine taken over by a virus and has to reformat you’ll say it’s an anomaly and he’s an idiot, and dismiss it.

    But if 2, what if 2 people both get malware that turns their computers into zombie spam-machines.. you probably would call them gay and sharing between their infected hard drives, and dismiss it.

    But what about 50 people – I say 50 people a DAY, turning on their computers and finding them infected with malware, adware, trojans, viruses, malrises, viruware, and every other kindadamnthingyoucanthinkof?

    MORE THAN 10,000 users getting viruses detected, selected, inspected, infected, and the hopefully rejected? Why, my friend, then you have a MOVEMENT.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    True confession: I own a Windows XP machine (it sits in the basement gathering dust from here until eternity). I set it up, installed AV software, installed anti-Spyware and -Adware software as well. And guess what? It still regularly had to be purged of its demons. It took time, was a waste of energy, and I realized I would NEVER use that machine to do any online transactions of importance – NO WAY was I going to use online banking, or bill paying, or order off of an online store with all that potential malware lurking in the system.

    Now I am not the most proficient Windows user, obviously. But I am not a computer novice or idiot either. I know not to download crap, open strange email links, etc. I’m not stupid. But if it takes a “Windows-Certified Genius” to maintain a Windows free of viruses… then what hope is there for any “real-world” Windows user?

    And yet, my parents, both in their 60’s, have been using iMacs (color gumdrop, and then lamp-style) online for over 6 years, with no specialized computer knowledge, with no Anti-Virus, and no problems. This on a broadband connection, of course.

    No problems at all. No work required. No knowledge required. IT. JUST. WORKS.

    I have had to help my parents with Mac “problems” ONCE in six years. ONCE!

    Now tell me how “Steve has sold us out” and we are victims again? Who did he sell us out to? How much was it? What exactly are we victims of?

    Because my computing experience is nothing resembling “Average”. I would venture to say that ZERO PERCENT of the SPAM ZOMBIES in the universe are Macs. And ZERO PERCENT of Mac Users have viruses, adware, and malware affecting their OS X machines in any detrimental way. PERIOD.

    I am not a pollyanna. I am not an ostrich. I am not an idiot. But from where I sit… worrying about viruses on a Mac, it’s like worrying about getting hit by lightning while indoors sitting on your sofa. It could happen, sure.

    But using a PC is like walking around in a lightning-storm wearing a metal vest and carrying an iron rod held up over your head. And adding Anti-Virus software to your PC is like putting on Wellies (rubber galoshes). You might be theoretically safer, but you’d be a lot better off putting down the metal rod, taking off the metal vest, and getting indoors!

  4. As byeTakeCare says Windows fanboys and zealots are still delusional in their belief that the Mac doesn’t suffer from viruses because of its smaller market share.

    So come on Windows fanboys, name me a specific Macintosh virus, that is Macintosh OSX virus, that can be found in the wild?

    At least my own father has now gotten a Macbook. Now he can look forward to trouble-free computing. It’ll actually work without needing to go to a engineer 3 times a month. Let alone crash out on him at regular intervals in a day!

    Along with a much more advanced and capable OS that has Linux as its nearest cousin. Making these the top 2 best Operating Systems available.

    On the subject of laughing, I still laugh at folks whose job description is or has “Windows Security” in the title.

    BTW his old Dell will be placed right on top of this Sunday’s bonfire and burnt into blob of plastic!

    To see more about bonfires: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonfire

  5. Boy, is there going to be some celebration amongst the idiot tech media and Windows fanbase if a true virus were to appear. Who knows, maybe by the year 2010. We could still say it took them ten friggin years to do it.

  6. This is the reason why Parallels Assistant is so significant for virus-packed PCs – now Windows users can backup their files to the Mac side, and reinstall Windows (in one user intervention rather than ten) then copy their data back again in much less time than removing the viruses from a PC.

    Even this will become annoying, just like running Classic under MacOS X was until the relief when you finally updated your last Classic app, but kept the System Folder around for nostalgic reasons. So it will be with switchers – keeping BootCamp and Parallels around until it is no longer needed.

  7. AttackOnMac = idiot asks: “If you witness a tree falling in the woods and your body breaks the fall and I was unaware of it will you make a noise?”

    To answer your question, I am a MacUser, therefore I am invulnerable to everything and would make no noise.

  8. I’m getting tired of the “OMG, Its the first Mac virus” stories. I think the danger of this is that if there ever is an actual virus, no one will believe it and the outcome will be worse than if they take it seriously.

    My attitude is that I want to know about any threats and take appropriate action to secure my computer. In the thread on the “Macareana” virus I was accused of being a zealot because I suggested that the announcement by Symantec might be self serving.

    My point is that even if there are viruses for the Mac, we have a long long way to go before they would have the same impact on the platform as they do on Windows.

  9. This line reveals the article as calculated FUD …

    ” …there is some truth to the notion that there are fewer viruses that attack Apple Computer systems… “

    It’s a disclaimer that negates the need for an actual disclaimer. It says, in essence, “I never said anything of the sort.”

    It’s like saying, “There may be a possibility for a need to talk about the notion of a discussion that may or may not happen sometime in the near or distant future — or not.”

  10. guess the mdn take has relevance depending on the intended audience. too many times it is just a rehash of the high level of frustration that people keep using the same old wives tales about the instances of viruses in mac and windows environments. each of the the half dozen variations of the same obsurity theme really miss the basic point. it is not now many viruses are out there (or whether they exist in the wild), but which environment do you prefer to do your computing. any other rationalization is like saying i would turn down a saleen s7r because it does not have an air conditioner, or a prius because the gauges are in the middle instead of in front of the driver.

    when mdn throws the same old reasons back at the misinformed writer, they are just slinging fud (no matter how much more correct it might be). remember it is fud because the receiver does not believe it, not because the sender believes it. communications 101.

    we need a more elegant approach. remember we are mac zealots. our counter attacks should be surgical and at the aorta, not blunt blows to the knee.

    mw=common… we are mac users because we know we are not common. i personally don’t care if anyone else knows that or not, particularly those who you don’t respect anyway. i may be sick, but i believe many people deserve windows. think of this: when you find out a stranger uses a mac, do you have this automatic respect for them without knowing anything else about them? do you think windows users who think the dark side is all there is ever feel that way when they find out a stranger uses windows just like them? when they find out you use a mac, don’t throw all the virus crap at them if they ask you why. talk about the positive mac experience you have without comparing it to windows at all. use the soft sell. be nordstroms, not ali used cars. it will make you think more and the quality and impact of the conversation will be much higher. who knows, maybe one of these days they will stop referring to us as venomous mac addicts.

  11. Forget writing to this loser (although I just did, politely). Write to his editors and point out how wrong he is. Since it’s clear this guy is a freelancer (“Special to the Seattle Times”), maybe they’ll hire one of the 100,000 writers in Seattle who actually know their way around a computer.

    By the way, his other answers aren’t much better than his Mac virus answer. Question number two had to do with e-mail forwarding, and he goes on an on about having your own domain. Sheesh.

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