by Carlo Longino

Mac Users' Security Smugness Set To Roll On For A While Yet

from the flame-on dept

Mac users had better watch out -- for all six instances of malicious code written to attack OS X that were discovered in the first half of the year. Of course, that's more than the zero that were found in the second half of 2005, so it's enough for CNN to say attacks on the Mac are rising. The claim that the virus found on a small number of iPods earlier this week "highlighted" the threat to Macs is even more bizarre, considering it was a Windows virus. But hey, a little Mac smack talk always makes for good headlines, as bloggers around the world have figured out, and there's no better way to rile up the fanboys (and generate some traffic) than to suggest that maybe the Mac isn't quite as secure as the legion of smug Mac users would like to think. Without getting into the actual security of OS X relative to other platforms, the key stat to watch is Apple's market share. A report this week said it's now up to 5.8%, and the common thinking is that as it continues to increase, Macs are at greater risk. This is true, but only to a certain extent. Most security attacks and viruses are now geared to deliver financial gain. As is pointed out in the original article, at under 6 percent market share, Macs aren't an attractive target. At 10 percent, Macs won't be an attractive target, nor even at double today's market share (assuming they followed Gartner's advice and quit making hardware). The small number of Mac users doesn't just mean there are fewer targets, but also that it's much harder for viruses to spread around. If a Mac user got a trojan that wanted to replicate to other Mac users, say, via emailing the users' contacts, it would only hit the fraction that were also Mac users, and so on and so on, making it much harder for it to spread. The tipping point where Mac market share makes it fruitful for virus writers to target Macs remains quite a ways off -- and ultimately, it's probably out of Apple's reach. Update: Perhaps some CNN editor actually read the story, since its headline has been softened from the original "Mac attacks rare but rising", to something with a little more wiggle room.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 20th, 2006 @ 3:41pm

    Macs Rule!!!!!!!


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    faceplant, Oct 20th, 2006 @ 3:48pm


    Put down the crackpipe and s-l-o-w-l-y back away from the keyboard

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Pipe Stealer, Oct 20th, 2006 @ 4:08pm

    Re: Re:

    Hee hee...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Zazie, Oct 20th, 2006 @ 7:01pm


    I've always thought that as a Mac user, despite the claim that they are close to invinceable, a little protection never hurt...

    -Anti Virus: Check
    -Firewall: Check
    -Backup Browsers: Check
    -Multiple backups of data: Check

    I'de rather be cautious, because you simply never know...

    -zazie (a "smarter" mac user)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Kerry, Oct 20th, 2006 @ 7:02pm

    Windows is only really a threat when there are lots od PEBKAC errors. It's insecure if you're stupid and do things like pr0n surf with no firewall, put your fath in a single AV/spyware/security suite, click on popups, fileshare, ignore your updates, do not closely monitor emails you open, open email attachments, open anything except "text only" emails from anyone, don't scan files you download before opening them, put your and your friends email address into a "send to a firend" on a website, etc., etc., etc.

    Wait! That sounds like an awful lot of crap to do. Think I'll just install that Ubuntu Linux I saw on TV the other night. I'll just keep it updated and surf pr0n, fileshare, and play java games to my heart's content. That way I don't have to buy any new hardware.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 20th, 2006 @ 8:37pm

    Ubuntu rules!!! Especially when it looks lke a mac... haha

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    JumperPunk, Oct 21st, 2006 @ 12:07am


    It's really not as much work as you make it out to be. most of what you listed would mean that to avoid viruses you actually dont do something, such as click on popups (should have used firefox...) or opening more emails. about the updates, for all but xp, they ought to be set to automatic. I run AVG free, which runs in the background and does and update and a full system scan every day at 2am (default is 8am, i changed it), and run a ad-aware personnal every few days or so, and let windows defender do its thing. with a cookie filter, i rarely get even a tracking cookie on my pc. the only things that i have to actually do is know what sites are legit and what to stay faaar away from, have simillar discernment w/ emails (though, becuase i use an alternative email as the best spam filter ever, and i rarely get anything that i dont want (about 2 peices of spam ever for the last year and a half that ive had my gmail (real) account)), and if i know something is comming from an illegit source (tourents and p2p, mainly) i scan it as soon as its downloaded. even though i took alot of words to say it, its really not that much work, just knowledge and occasional scans.

    about the hardware update... well, yeah most people will need new hardware or entierly new pc to run vista (assuming they even upgrade to vista). i however, just built my pc, and all i need is a dx10 video card, which i was waiting for before i got one anyways (im lucky enough to have a friend that is willing to let me borrow his radeon x850xt until then--oh the irony of running a radeon on a 590sli board...)

    on a side note, i dont go to pron sites cause im more worried about it destroying me than my pc--but that is a rant that im not going to get into here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    u no, Oct 21st, 2006 @ 3:00pm


    really the biggerst threat to computer security is stupidity. as long as you use a little common sense you will probably be fine. As far as Macs vs. PCs, i dont care. I have a PC because everthing works on them. When i want to buy software, i don't have to check if it works on mac. Macs are probably more secure simple because of their market share. maybe all of the recent touting of Macs as invincinble will piss hackers off enough to write a virus, just to prove it can be done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Cleverboy, Oct 21st, 2006 @ 3:01pm


    I appreciate the fact that anti-virus software makers are trying to protect us. The prevalence of malicious code is truly insane. But, really... I would like nothing more than for Windows to lock everyone out of the core... unless someone can explain to me how building Vista to be more secure at the expense of anti-virus makers... makes me less secure. Given that whole "two machine" thing, I might not be using Vista anyway, but... just saying.

    I see myself moving closer and closer to being a Mac-head 24/7, instead of as diversion and development server. The virus rate on Windows... is insane, and I'm pretty damn sure... mostly because of the permissions model.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Paul, Oct 22nd, 2006 @ 4:28pm

    Virus count = superiority?

    There have been no virus, malware, worm, or any other malicious attacks for my TI-36 calculator for all the 6 years I've had it.

    I guess this means my calculator is better than a mac, since mac users seem to base the mac's superiority almost completely on the fact that it has less virus written for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    JDoe, Oct 22nd, 2006 @ 8:54pm

    Re: Virus count = superiority?

    Wrong- UNIX based operating system does true multitasking (parallel processing of as many at 10 programs at a time with out a hitch), doesn't crash (at least in the 3 years I have been using my 2 MACs), and uses all the same file types as Windows so I am in no way isolated from the Windows world. I maintain a virus scan software so I can clean Windows viruses so I don't pass them on to Windows using friends (yes, I do have friends that use Windows). I do back up data (because humans designed the hardware and OS so they are fallible) but have never needed to restore anything from back up. And when I switch to the Intel based Macs I will get Crossover and Cider and be able to run Windows software without an unstable and insecure Windows OS install. I walk in the same cyber ghetto that is rife with muggings and robberies as anyone else who accesses the Internet. The difference? I am wearing Kevlar while most others wear a thin cotton T-Shirt.

    So to recap: no crashes, no lost data, no spyware or viruses and I can do anything and everything that Windows users can do but I keep doing it while you are rebooting, fixing your hardware profile, or scraping and re-installing Windows because you got a virus in the 2-3 day lag from when a virus is let loose and when AVG or Symantec or McAfee released the definition.

    Why would anyone not like that? Oh yeah... IT professions and companies like Geeks on Call... because their livelihood depends on you using a system that keeps them employed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2006 @ 11:42pm

    Mac fanboys - always a treat. Again, as it has been stated: Macs certainly don't see viruses/malware because they simply don't have the market share. I can guarantee that if Apple had the amount of users M$ has, they would be in the same boat.

    IMO, security all boils down to one thing: common sense. I have only had one virus in my lifetime, and that was during my first year on the computer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    rahrens, Oct 23rd, 2006 @ 4:14am

    market share

    I don't know where you got the market share number 5.8%, but Gartner noted a market share for Apple at 6.1%...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    James, Oct 23rd, 2006 @ 8:19am

    Who cares...

    .. Mac users are too small (in number) to be interesting to virus writers, I've always said if the situation were reversed and Apple had the majority of market share the bugs would be oozing out.

    Its easy to pick on Microsoft because they are the 800lb gorilla,,... wahhh wahhh wahhh I can hear you whining now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Spire, Apr 21st, 2009 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Re: Virus count = superiority?

    Kevlar? That's a terrible analogy! It would be more accurate to say that you are dressed in bum rags and mugging you would be a complete waste of the mugger's time...

    What part of the market share deal don't you understand? You don't *really* have increased security. Hackers just have no interest in you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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