What’s this? A Mac virus?!?

The Apple logo with a worm coming out of itSo, a new trojan has emerged targeting the Mac OS.

But I thought Macs were invulnerable to viruses!

Let’s take a step back. The security debate of Windows vs. Mac has been going on for a long time. Typically the back-and-forth goes like this:

Windows user: I have a virus on my computer. How do I fix it?
Mac user: Just get a Mac.
Windows fan: (coming out of nowhere) The only reason Windows has more viruses than Mac is that Windows is more popular. It’s a bigger target.
Mac fan: (coming out of nowhere) That’s not true! Mac is an inherently more secure OS!

This strikes me as, honestly, kind of a stupid conversation, because it’s completely missing the real issue: it’s easier to break a system than it is to build it. I’ve written about this before.

That is to say, let’s suppose Mac is inherently more secure than Windows. I don’t know whether or not this is true (I haven’t exactly studied the code bases of both OSes, nor could I considering both are proprietary), but I don’t really think it matters, either.

The fact that Windows is more popular than Mac is definitely the main reason Windows has more viruses than Mac. It doesn’t matter which one is “more secure” than the other; when any system is easier to break than to build (I have yet to see an example contradicting this rule), all systems are vulnerable, and the single most effective way to protect yourself (if that’s your highest priority) is to adopt a system that represents a small, unattractive target for malicious parties.

Suppose the U.S. were being attacked by some foreign power. And suppose you could go literally anywhere, instantly, to protect yourself. Where would you go?

Billy the KidThe argument of whether Mac is inherently more secure than Windows is a pointless one in my opinion because it’s like debating whether, in this scenario, you should hide in the Pentagon or the J. Edgar Hoover Building (FBI headquarters). Neither would be safe; they would both be prime targets. You’d be much safer hiding out in some random residence in a rural town in Montana. Whether this residence even had locks on the doors, let alone fortified walls or a sophisticated security system, would be basically irrelevant. The reason it’d be safe is that it wouldn’t be a target.

So I’m certainly not surprised that this virus has surfaced, nor that Apple recently started recommending for the first time that OS X users install anti-virus software. Really, it’s just a sign that Apple is becoming much more of a market presence than it used to be. In fact, in some small way, I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks at Apple were even a little bit proud about this: Check it out, somebody wants to take us down! Look out, Windows!

One final note: It just occurred to me that this post may come off as a bit patronizing towards Apple; I don’t mean to sound like I honestly believe Apple is in some way a “small” player in the tech industry; that is clearly absurd. They are about as big as they come. I am specifically talking about operating systems; and there is really no denying that Windows is a far more popular operating system than OS X. That doesn’t make it better, just more popular. That’s all I’m sayin’.


One thought on “What’s this? A Mac virus?!?

  1. Michael says:

    I definitely agree with your article. I mean, seriously! I am an avid user of 3 OS’s. Windows, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, and Linux. There really is no such thing as a truly secure computer, when you look at how easy it is to break something. It’s like saying “We’ve built Fort Knox in your computer”. The hacker just says “Let’s cut off the supplies they need for survival, and surround them.”

    Anyway, great post!

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