Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mac Virus Debate

Those new Mac ads are funny. Sure the Mac is "Better" in many ways. People who use them more get that more. At my office we have this debate all the time. Every time someone gets a virus, I simply have to remind them that the Mac I use still has no virusses. Inevitably the debate engages. "No one uses a Mac" they say, so that's why there are no virusses (viri?) for Mac. Well, this is simply wishful thinking.

I have used every platform as part of my work and personal experience, including the Mac platform. Not to show my age, but I am certain I have had my hands on the keys and my eyes on the screen of every computer platform available to the public. Because I am a "power user" I know every machine has flaws and weaknesses and EVERY platform has crashes. I use a Mac at home and at work (I do use other computers for testing as well) and I know I have experienced some lockups and crashes even on the latest Tiger OS on my dual G5. Bad hardware or software can cause a Tiger G5 to do the "We're hangin' here" thing. What I don't have on my Mac is any virusses.

Now, back in the OS 9 days, I had the occassional virus. Why? Because people try to write them and system weaknesses can be exploited. So why are there no virusses for my Mac running OS X? The reasons are combined. People don't write virusses for Mac because they are harder to exploit. The Mac market is large enough to have a percentage of the 100's of thousands of virusses created...but it has none. Is it because it has fewer users? This is true...but it is only part of the story. It is also less exploitable. That doesn't mean it's impossible, but the security patches are way ahead of attempts to exploit the platform.

See, people want a virus to propogate like wild fire to millions of machines. The Mac market is big enough for that, but the Mac is very much ineffective at allowing rogue code access to system resources. So, the real reason writing a virus for the Mac is unrewarding, is that the system is not as easy to exploit. Thus, the rewards drop right off to zero. Zero is the amount of virusses I have on my Mac.

Sure, the rewards for exploiting the Mac to spread a virus would be greater if the market share were reversed, but the ability to exploit the system would still be just as unrewarding to a virus writer, as compared to the currently popular target. Is it possible that someone will be able to find a way to exploit the Mac for virus propogation? Sure, but that is like the footpath to heaven, not the 96 lane freeway to hell.

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