With the recent pain that SoBig and Blaster have brought to computer users around the world, a Mac evangelist would hope that more and more people are considering the Apple platform. While we can hardly expect droves of Windows users to switch after these frustrations, we can at least take pleasure in our relative invulnerability from them. Sure, your inbox and mine as well has been flooded with PIF and SCR files, but they don’t break anything and after a few Mail seems to be piping them to the Junk folder where they belong.
But what is it that helps keep us safe from harm? Is it because we have a minority platform? Is it because of stronger security concerns by Apple’s developers? Or have we inherited Unix’s legacy of security? While all of these come into play, far too many people seem to be pointing to the first.
Virus writers tend to not have convictions. While you might find messages imploring “Billy” Gates to secure his software, don’t be fooled into thinking that these malicious individuals write their software as a political statement. Far from it. What drives these miscreants is something far simpler than a desire for more secure software. Besides, if Microsoft really took security to heart, these folks wouldn’t get to have their fun.
No, something much more basic is involved here. I think it’s the challenge. There’s a good amount of challenge involved in writing a virus, hacking a system, what have you. But, just like everything else in life, there are varying forms of challenges involved in computing. At some point we all face the challenge of first learning to use a computer. How to click the mouse, type in some text, maybe use the command line. Then there is the challenge of learning the Internet and its many wonders. These are things that all users go through.
If you want to be a malicious person, there are plenty of challenges for bad purposes in computing as well. And if you’re looking to get your foot in the door, Microsoft Windows offers plenty of easy entrances. Due to the general lack of consideration for security in Windows, one can write a pretty destructive program with very little effort. The operating system itself does very little to restrict a user’s actions, nor does it do much to restrict the actions of an application that might be running on that user’s computer.
The Windows security model, which, contrary to popular belief, does exist, isn’t as well thought out as that present in a Unix operating system. On top of that, it doesn’t have 30 years of corrections and adaptations integrated into it like Unix does. With Mac OS X, Apple adopted Unix and inherited 30 years of tried, tested, and true security. Are there viruses and worms on Unix? Of course, but they are fewer in number and usually, once discovered, corrected much faster than anything coming out of Microsoft.
When a security flaw was found in Samba, it was maybe a week before Apple had released a fix through software update. By choosing Unix, Apple has gained the advantage of thousands of programmers around the world who all take security to heart. Security is a core goal of every Unix project. Yet on Windows, it almost seems that security is an afterthought. Other things are more important to Microsoft than the security of its customers and their systems. It’s really a sad state of affairs when a company that doesn’t take its own security to heart lands a contract with the US Department of Homeland Security.
So, next time someone says that there are obviously not viruses on Macs because hardly anyone uses them, put them in their place. Tell them the real truth: that security is at the foreground of Unix and thus Mac OS X. Tell them security’s not an afterthought, but one of the main factors that is driving the platform. Then tell them to patch their system so I stop getting all of this weird traffic coming to my computer and these annoying emails ;)
What are your thoughts on security? Do you like where Apple is going with it?