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Gilles H. Level 1 Level 1 (50 points)
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.

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  • Russa Level 4 Level 4 (1,315 points)
    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?
  • Gilles H. Level 1 Level 1 (50 points)
    Russa wrote:
    I don't know of any viruses.

    I don't either. Their objection doesn't concern a specific virus, but the possibility of one (or many) appearing as the Mac's market share grows. What I'm looking for is the technical reason — not the "market share" reason — why it is almost impossible to write a successful virus for Mac OS X.
  • Allan Eckert Level 8 Level 8 (46,080 points)
    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.

    Allan
    tiger
  • Forrest McElfresh1 Level 5 Level 5 (4,115 points)
    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.
  • Gilles H. Level 1 Level 1 (50 points)
    Allan Eckert wrote:
    One of the things which make it more difficult is because OS X is based on UNIX which is totally
    different then Windows.

    Thanks Allan. You say UNIX is one of the things, what would be the others ? Do you have other examples in mind ?
  • Gilles H. Level 1 Level 1 (50 points)
    Forrest McElfresh1 wrote:
    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.

    Do you mean that Mac OS X is not more inherantly secure than Windows, then ?
  • Forrest McElfresh1 Level 5 Level 5 (4,115 points)
    Correct, it is only a lesser target as it has a lesser market share.
  • Wan Chai Man Level 2 Level 2 (395 points)
    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.
  • Peter Arnold1 Level 5 Level 5 (7,350 points)
    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.
  • Gilles H. Level 1 Level 1 (50 points)
    Peter Arnold1 wrote:
    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 thoroughly.

    Is this the "Security through Obscurity myth" John Gruber talks about now and then ?



    Peter Arnold1 wrote:
    I recommend doing some Google searches on the subject for details.

    That brings us back to my initial question. I didn't find any clear technical explanations (construction, procedures, etc.) of why Mac OS X is or might be more secure than Windows.
  • Scott Radloff Level 6 Level 6 (14,490 points)
    Gilles,

    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.

    Scott
  • Forrest McElfresh1 Level 5 Level 5 (4,115 points)
    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.
  • imac007 Level 3 Level 3 (860 points)
    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.
  • smithrj Level 4 Level 4 (1,540 points)
    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.

    Ray
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