Stop the Noiz

Mac Security a Result of Diversity and Smart Planning

Frank Fox - 2008.04.17 - Tip Jar

Lucky for Apple, there are several important safeties still in place to delay malware for awhile longer.

First off, Microsoft created its own problems. Not only did Microsoft leave the doors to the house open by turning on unnecessary services and ports by default, it also made connections to turn on software remotely so that once you broke into one program on a computer, you could go from place to place until you took over everything. This approach was fine for single use computers in a home or business, but once we all got connected to the Internet the virus writers found easy access. for years, Microsoft looked stupid for trumpeting the closing of one door, only to find that two other doors were being broken into.

Apple isn't stupid and saw what was going on. Apple made sure that most services and ports are off by default. They also did a fair job of not having too many services in one application start a service in another automatically. There were mistakes, and Apple has worked to correct these over time. QuickTime's autoplay a new movie was one such connection that had to be changed.

Uniformity and Conformity

Microsoft, being a software company, pushed to have Microsoft brand software running anything they thought was important, from the operating system to the word processor to the browser. Their dominance in multiple areas created a standard implementation and strategy that work well for them to dominate the desktop computer.

Not content with the desktop, they pushed into the enterprise and file server market. They ploughed down variety to put up their standard. Smaller software players were allowed to develop those niche areas too small for Microsoft to control.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, writers of malware took advantage of this uniformity. A host of easy to use virus tools were created and shared, and secrets passed around to many players. It was a software business that Microsoft wasn't allowed to exploit. Steve Ballmer may have cried when thinking about the lost revenue opportunity this represented; instead Microsoft bought into the virus protection racket.

Security Through Diversity

Apple's approach is different. Apple is a hardware company that makes software to complement the equipment. So while Apple did develop its own products, it pulled in plenty of open source and independent developers. There are Apple standards, and for the products Apples sells, few try to compete, but there is not the wholesale dominance that Microsoft brought to the Windows computer. On my Macs, Apple supplies the iLife programs, but I get word processing from Microsoft, photo touch up from Adobe, and my browser of choice is Firefox.

The Microsoft hegemony isn't there for virus writers to exploit. Most software exploits are designed for Microsoft products and not the thousands of other software products that may be equally vulnerable. The variety on Macs creates instant protection because a single tool has limited scope.

There is also the issue of years of experience. Nimrods who have never written a single line of code may think it's easy to port malware from one operating system to another, but the devil is in the details. A useful software exploit is all about the details. Besides, if software was that easy to port, why haven't the game developers come flocking to the Mac? If the Mac is growing in popularity enough to attract malware, then where is the legitimate software business? There is some, and it is growing, but there isn't a big explosion. Let's face it; I am happy that these people stay away, especially as long as the malware stays away with them.

The bottom line is that viruses on the Mac don't have the years of opportunity and support that Microsoft unwittingly provided. Where Microsoft has been a fertile jungle of growth for the malware vendors, Apple is a sterile ground that, if a few weeds show, they have been quickly pulled. No honest Mac user wants a single virus on the Mac. So despite the knowledge, growing opportunity, and increasing popularity, any development of viruses will take tons of work to get them to grow. A possible outbreak will be limited and short-lived; Macs will remain safe for awhile longer.

Security Experts Don't Get It

Security experts are constantly complaining that Apple doesn't do nearly enough. They talk endless about how much better Microsoft is and how Microsoft's response time is quicker. Of course they are right, Microsoft has a garden full of weeds; if Microsoft is going to make headway, it has to work twice as hard.

Apple's garden got a good start, with plenty of lessons learned from Microsoft's mistakes. You can't fault the better gardener for spending less time weeding and more on growing. Don't blame Apple and don't feel sorry for Microsoft. Microsoft profited billion on its garden; if it have to spend a little extra pulling weeds, fine.

There you have it, the secret behind why Macs are more secure. Apple got off to a better start and does regular maintenance - call it "security through good maintenance". No, it doesn't rhyme, and it isn't mysterious, and no one has caught on, least of all the supposed experts.

Let us Mac users raise a cheer to Microsoft: May you continue supplying a cheap and inexpensive solutions for malware vendors everywhere (for PCs only, of course). LEM

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