OS X Security

This guest post was written by Gregory Barendt and originally appeared on 23excuses.com.

Among people who have opinions on this sort of thing, there are two camps. The first camp claims OS X is essentially malware-free because it has such a small marketshare that it isn’t worth the time a malicious hacker would spend to create an exploit. The second camp, usually after taking offense at the first, tells us that OS X is malware-free simply because it is a superior operating system. I submit that both groups are wrong and we should at least consider the possibility that it is a combination of marketshare and design that are responsible for the security of OS X.

It’s true that Apple has somewhere around 5% of the home computing market, depending on which poll or survey you’re reading. So, yes, they represent a smaller target. Yes, a Mac exploit can’t build a very impressive botnet because the numbers just aren’t there. Not every malicious hacker is out for financial gain though. Think of the fame and media attention to the person who forces Apple to change their marketing campaing to claim that Macs are mostly virus-free. I’d say that’s plenty of motivation for attempts at exploiting OS X. Sure, there’s no financial future in it, but being the first to do something’s always good for some press.

On technical superiority, the Mac certainly is designed better than Windows, particularly where networking and multiple users are concerned. It’d be hard not to be. UNIX is a tried, and mostly true, platform for this sort of thing. Users don’t run as root, which is nice. Unfortunately, users still have the ability to browse the web, run applications, and delete their own files - unless we take that away, no OS can ever be completely secure.

So, if you’re going to be an extremist in either camp and claim OS X is crapware that only survives by being unpopular, or that it is perfection embodied as the operating system of the gods, then you really aren’t helping the discussion.

— 2006-07-06