Better is NOT Perfect

February 4, 2009

Macs Don’t Get Viruses. So, what? They’re still not safe.

Much is made over the fact that Macs don’t get viruses. Even Apple’s advertising campaign plays up this fact. To this I say: So What? Viruses aren’t the only nasties out there, nothing is safe from a trojan horse, and everyone can be phished.

Nothing Is Safe from a Trojan Horse
I can burn a trojan horse on a DVD, and render your DVD Player permanently inoperable. I can put a trojan horse on a thumb drive and plug it into your car stereo’s USB port, and brick your car stereo. Of course, the trojan horse has to be written for the specific target. The trojan horse that destroyed the DVD Player won’t do anything to the car stereo and vice versa.

The same is true of Windows and Macs. A Trojan Horse written for a Mac is harmless to Windows, and vice versa.

What’s the difference?
A virus is a self-replicating piece of software. It requires no human intervention to spread. It just has to exploit a known hole in your system’s security. A Trojan Horse (or just “Trojan”) doesn’t have to find a hole in your security. It just has to bait you. It fools you into downloading it, installing it, giving it permissions, and running it.

Caveat Pirate.
It can be disguised a quarterly report from your supervisor, a viewer for a porn site, a cracked version of iWork or Photoshop, or even a pirated song.

When it’s disguised as a photo or a video or music file, it’s easy to spot because clicking on those things should never prompt your Mac to ask for your password… so when it does: Bingo! Trojan Horse Blocked! However, if I I’m installing something, asking me for my password is perfectly normal.

Another thing no OS is safe from: Phishing.

A phony e-mail link is a phony e-mail link and the fake web page you’re typing your password into doesn’t care what you’re typing on.

On why AV software is necessary on Windows* (especially XP)
* Until very recently, all versions of Windows came with five of its ports open (Mac OS X comes with all of them shut and locked.) Ports are back-door channels to the Internet: one for instant-messaging, one for Windows XP’s remote-control feature, and so on. These ports are precisely what permitted viruses to infiltrate millions of PC’s for almost two decades. Microsoft finally shut those ports after 18 years with the release of Vista.

* When a program tries to install itself in Mac OS X or Linux (system folder), a dialog box interrupts your work and asks you permission for that installation — in fact, requires your account password. Windows XP goes ahead and installs it, potentially without your awareness.

* Administrator accounts in Windows (and therefore viruses that exploit it) have access to all areas of the operating system. In Mac OS X, even an administrator can’t touch the files that drive the operating system itself. A Mac OS X virus (if there were such a thing) could theoretically wipe out all of your files, but wouldn’t be able to access anyone else’s stuff, couldn’t touch the operating system itself, and couldn’t access your backups.

* No Macintosh e-mail program automatically runs scripts that come attached to incoming messages, as Microsoft Outlook does. Outllook and IE are the two most common vectors for malware infection because of auto-running.

On why AV software is a good idea on a Mac.
If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

OK, so a Windows Virus can’t affect your Mac… they’re still attached to that e-mail you forwarded to that mailing list! If you had scanned it, you would have protected your non-Mac using family and friends from having to deal with it. What if their AV software isn’t up-to-date? Wouldn’t you feel awful if little Suzie lost her book report on turtles just because you saw a retro dancing-hamster / peanut-butter-jelly-time flash video and wanted to pass it on?

So am I suggesting you buy the latest version of Norton? HEAVENS NO!!!!

Norton AV software actually has caused problems in the past on Macs and have not provided any protection from anything for all the money they charge.

Check out ClamX AV. There are plenty of free Mac AV solutions, but ClamX is the least intrusive. People say that when a danger finally surfaces, that’s the one they’ll be downloading and using. Until then, no one bothers.

Caveat Complacent.
Now, if you’ve made it this far you may have noticed that in the beginning I said that Macs don’t get viruses. That is not the same thing as Macs can’t get viruses. OS X has set a record for longest time without an outbreak, but nothing lasts forever and no system that communicates is 100% secure.

*Clipped from a Slashdot post, I have no idea who the original author is.

Digg @ http://digg.com/apple/Macs_Don_t_Get_Viruses_So_What_They_re_Still_Not_Safe

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