Reports over the weekend that a new malware application had been found on Mac computers caused quite a stir.
Subsequent investigation has shown that, in itself, the Opener script does not present too much danger to most Mac users. As Macintouch readers pointed out, the malicious hacker would have to have root access to your computer, or physical access to a disk it was connected to in order to get the thing installed.
That’s not to say that we Mac users should resume our customary smug expressions and pretend there’s nothing to worry about.
Modern Macs are designed for connectivity. The new iBooks are unwired for Airport as soon as you unpack the box; the presence of a network, and therefore access to the internet, is not questioned. And connected computers are exposed computers.
While Opener certainly could cause some pretty nasty damage to any disk it infected, it lacks the crucial element that makes a virus a virus: a means to propagate itself from one machine to the next.
Nonetheless, this could be an ideal opportunity to learn something useful from our Windows-using friends. The smart ones among them get hold of anti-virus software before they even connect their WinXP boxes to a phone socket. Is there any reason why Mac users shouldn’t do the same?
It’s funny. No matter how many lists of essential Mac OS X software you see, none of them ever seem include anti-virus applications. That says something — partly about how safe this system has been to date, and partly about the smug complacency a lot of us could be reasonably accused of.
Yes, Mac OS X has built-in firewall software. Yes, no-one writes viruses for the Mac platform because there’s just no (obvious) point. Why bother trying to infect such a tiny proportion of the global computer-using community? But despite it failing to qualify as a virus in the traditional sense, someone did make the effort to write Opener. And if one person thought it was worthwhile for their mysterious purposes, what’s to say that someone else might not think it worthwhile doing something similar to you, and your computer?
If any of this makes you feel even a tiny bit uneasy, perhaps you’ll consider downloading ClamXav, a GUI implementation of the Clam antivirus for Unix. Heck, if the scare about Opener is as low a threat as most people are now saying it is, you’ve nothing much to worry about. But it’s free, and it’s simple, so why not?
Should Mac users take more of an interest in security?