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Why is Mac OS X virus-free ?

3086 Views 34 Replies Latest reply: Feb 4, 2008 2:34 PM by CodLBi RSS
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Gilles H. Level 1 Level 1 (50 points)
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Feb 2, 2008 6:47 PM
I have two friends whom are tempted to switch to Macintosh but one last question is preventing them to do so. They are technically oriented, and not fully convinced that Mac OS X is virus-free (because they "heard" that that's not the case). So, if someone could tell me where I can find a description of the inner protection or procedures against viruses in Mac OS X or UNIX that Windows lacks, I could convince them.
iMac · MacBook · iPod nano · iPod classic, Mac OS X (10.5.1)
  • Russa Level 4 Level 4 (1,315 points)
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    Feb 2, 2008 6:52 PM (in response to Gilles H.)
    I'd like to know of the Mac viruses your friends reference in their conversations with you. I don't know of any viruses. What are the virus names?
    MacBook Pro 15" 2.4GHz with 4Gbytes, Mac OS X (10.5.1), Cox cable, ZyXEL P-330W v1.7, PAP2 v2 for Vonage, G-Drive Q for TM, AppleTV
  • Allan Eckert Level 8 Level 8 (39,335 points)
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    Feb 2, 2008 7:08 PM (in response to Gilles H.)
    Hi Giles H.

    I would not say that it impossible to write a virus for OS X. I would say that it is more difficult. One of the things which make it more difficult is because OS X is based on UNIX which is totally different then Windows. It is this totally different code base that means create a virus for it is so much more difficult.

    MacBook Pro, PowerMac G5 Quad. iPhone, Mac OS X (10.5.1), 7800 GT, 6.5 GB RAM, 440 GB, Nikon N80, Nikon D70, Nikon Coolscan 5000ED
  • Forrest McElfresh1 Level 5 Level 5 (4,115 points)
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    Feb 2, 2008 7:10 PM (in response to Gilles H.)
    There have been reports of proof of concept OS X viral code being written, but no credible reports of rampant viral outbreaks in the wild.

    The fact is fewer, if any, malicious programmers are plying their trade against OS X. This is said mainly to be due to OS X much smaller market share as opposed to Windows/DOS rather than inheriant security or structure.
    Mac Pro1,1 8 core; G5 dual 2.0 & dual 1.8; 2 X MDD 1.25; DA 1.33: ad nuseaum, Mac OS X (10.5.1), Chimeras All
  • Forrest McElfresh1 Level 5 Level 5 (4,115 points)
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    Feb 2, 2008 8:38 PM (in response to Gilles H.)
    Correct, it is only a lesser target as it has a lesser market share.
    Mac Pro1,1 8 core; G5 dual 2.0 & dual 1.8; 2 X MDD 1.25; DA 1.33: ad nuseaum, Mac OS X (10.5.1), Chimeras All
  • Wan Chai Man Level 2 Level 2 (395 points)
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    Feb 2, 2008 8:45 PM (in response to Gilles H.)
    Also, Windows code is supposed to be "secret" and so hackers take great delight in finding backdoors and loopholes.

    UNIX code is open source which means there is less of a reward for them.
    iMac 2.0 * Mini G4 * iBook * iPod Touch * Blackberry 8120 *, Mac OS X (10.5.1)
  • Peter Arnold1 Level 5 Level 5 (7,345 points)
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    Feb 2, 2008 8:54 PM (in response to Gilles H.)
    OS X is inherently more secure than Windows for a number of reasons. The notion that there are no viruses simply because of its low market share make it a less desirable target is nonsense and has be debunked throughly.

    The reasons for its superior resistance to malicious attacks are many fold. I recommend doing some Google searches on the subject for details.
    15" MacBook Pro 2.33 GHz, Mac OS X (10.5.1)
  • Scott Radloff Level 6 Level 6 (14,490 points)
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    Feb 2, 2008 9:59 PM (in response to Gilles H.)

    OS X is, generally speaking, more secure than Windows, and it has nothing to do with the relative market shares involved.

    First, OS X is built on UNIX. To understand what that means, from a security standpoint, you must know something of the history of UNIX, which has been around for well over 30 years(!). Windows was not begun with the internet and interconnectivity in mind, but UNIX was. As such, it was built from the ground up with these considerations in mind, and security was essential from the very beginning. Since it was open source, the best programming minds, world-wide, worked on insuring that its foundations were absolutely secure.

    In short, UNIX was conceived as a rock-solid fortress of security, with a core of functionality. In contrast, the security in Windows was cobbled together to patch holes as and when they appeared as a result of network connection and expansion (actually, Windows began life as no more than a port of the early Mac OS to a PC. Period. That, however, is a completely different thread). Not only was UNIX conceived with security in mind, it has had over 30 years to be strengthened. And, it has been.

    Now, let's talk about the word "virus." We must make the distinction between a "virus" and other malicious code. "Virus," as it applies to computing, is defined as code that focuses on replicating itself across machines, networks, and the internet. Defined that way, it simply isn't something that can easily happen on a Mac. Someone else can get into the technicalities, if they wish, but I'll just leave it at that. It ain't gonna happen.

    Trojans, "worms," etc., on the other hand, are more sophisticated in conception, action, and purpose. Sometimes designed to do malicious things, sometimes designed to "take over" a machine, sometimes designed to "phone home," and sometimes designed to do any or all of these, this type of "malware" is potentially more serious than just a "virus." But, this isn't going to happen on a Mac, either.

    You see, it's just too difficult to get any sort of "malware" past the basic preventive measures in place in OS X. Sure, there are very, very esoteric potentials for doing so, but there are also many people around the world working on finding these potential holes and "exploits" with the express purpose of getting them plugged up. These are the folks that publish those "proof of concepts." And, you will find that soon after one of these things appears (and remember, we're basically talking about "lab conditions" only here), Apple is very quick to shut that avenue down. End of story.

    If you look at any "anti-virus" developer's website, you will see a good deal of reported "viruses" or "exploits" listed for all flavors of the Mac OS. Are you going to believe this source? Really? Are you interested in buying a bridge?? The fact is, I have never seen a Mac virus, and I have never heard of anyone else who has either. I cannot say that I never will, but I can say that I doubt it very, very much.

    17" Macbook Pro, Mac OS X (10.5.1)
  • Forrest McElfresh1 Level 5 Level 5 (4,115 points)
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    Feb 2, 2008 10:24 PM (in response to Scott Radloff)
    Computer security is a lot like physical locks, it keeps honest people honest. A mal-intended programmer will do what he will do so long as he has the information and oppurtunity to do so.

    The only 100% failsafe secure computer is one that is non-functional.
    Mac Pro1,1 8 core; G5 dual 2.0 & dual 1.8; 2 X MDD 1.25; DA 1.33: ad nuseaum, Mac OS X (10.5.1), Chimeras All
  • imac007 Level 3 Level 3 (860 points)
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    Feb 2, 2008 10:31 PM (in response to Gilles H.)
    Microsoft are a software company that is selling an operating system.
    That operating system is generic. It needs to be to accommodate all the different kinds of hardware that will use it. You can build your own pc but need to install drivers for the hardware in order for Windows to recognize it and be able to modify the system to accommodate the hardware.
    In order to allow this flexibility the system has to have accessibility which are also vulnerabilities.

    Apple are a hardware company. They have written their own operating system and each computer comes with a specific disk with the hardware drivers specifically for that computer. There is also a specific Apple Hardware Test for that particular configuration.

    Viruses on a Mac are possible. They come in the form of programs that the user has to allow to be installed on the computer. They are called socially engineered viruses. The user has to be tricked into or otherwise convinced to install the program on the computer.
    They are easily removed as are most programs on a mac.
    imac core duo 17 inch 1.5 GB, Mac OS X (10.5.1)
  • smithrj Level 4 Level 4 (1,540 points)
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    Feb 2, 2008 11:14 PM (in response to Forrest McElfresh1)
    Forrest, you are the correct poster. To think that a virus, worm, spyware could not be written for a Mac is incorrect. True, there are none, nor have there been, but someday there will be. Programmers can write spyware. OSx is very safe, but to say it will always be so, and impossible to ever be effected is a fallacy. I've had Macs since day ONE. Never had a virus. Yet anything is possible with technology. Think about it.

    MacBook 2GB, 250 drive, Black W/Lacie external, Mac OS X (10.5.1), iMac 4GB Memory, 750 GB Drive, 10.4.11, iPod shuffle
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