Mac and Linux viruses?

Posted by otis_2 on May 1, 2006 4:29 PM EDT
None; By R. Fennimore
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I'm getting a little tired of reading all of these articles by supposed "experts" suggesting that Mac and Linux systems are becoming as vulnerable to malicious code (viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, etc.) as Windows because they are gaining in popularity. That the only reason Windows is targeted so much is due to their market share of desktop operating systems. What a pile of rubbish!

[I would suggest that the user of a GNU/Linux system who has lost his/her data due to a run-in with some malicious code is, in fact, vulnerable to that malicious code. Additionally, the fact that it is much more difficult to contract malware using a GNU/Mac/UNIX system does not mean it is impossible. Even so, I can agree that some of the hype is exactly that - mere hype. - dcparris]

Lets put this into language that everyone can understand. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, so let's use some analogies to illustrate the point.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume that all viruses are "sexually transmitted". Next, let us also assume that restricting file and system access permissions in the operating system is like wearing a condom, and communicating on the Internet is like having sex (pretty good analogies if I don't say so myself).

Windows systems are set up by default to allow users full access to the entire system, which is to say that the operating system is NOT wearing a condom. This is the equivalent of having unprotected sex at all times while on the Internet. As a result, when viruses and other malicious code gets into the computer, the malicious code also has unrestricted access to the entire system.

Windows users are therefore encouraged to get "vaccinated" by using anti-virus software to protect them against all the "known" viruses (I say "known" because, like real vaccines, most anti-virus software is only effective against “known” viruses). So, Windows PC's are having unprotected sex ALL the time, even though there is no protection against new viruses (until a new vaccine comes out anyway). In addition, there is also malicious code (ie: rootkits) that can be completely undetectable.

Mac, Linux and other Unix based systems come with condoms pre-installed. Which is to say that they have restrictive file and access permissions set up by default, so if any malicious code does manage to find it's way in, it will have the same restrictive file and access permissions as the user. Because the operating system is wearing the condom, the worst case scenario is that the user's own files might get “hosed”. The malicious code does NOT have access to vital system files like it does in Windows (ie: the system registry).

Is it possible for Windows to wear a condom or for Mac/Linux/Unix to operate without one? Well, yes it is, but most systems do not switch from the default setup because the vendor(s) of most operating system(s) make it difficult for the average user to do so.

So, Mac/Linux/Unix systems have condoms on ALL the time and Windows systems NEVER wear them, even though there are tens of thousands of viruses in the wild, and over 99% of them ONLY target Windows systems. Less than 1% target Mac/Linux/Unix systems.

There are never any guarantees in the world of Internet security. Security is NOT a product, it's a PROCESS. It just so happens that Microsoft got the process wrong. Security in Windows was an afterthought, so they are "reactive". Security in Mac/Linux/Unix based systems was built-in from the get-go, so they they are "proactive". Huge difference!

Windows is not necessarily a “bad” operating system (at least I don't think so), but they certainly could have outfitted Windows with condoms on by default instead of leaving it to end users to put them on. I think that was a very bad decision. I hear Vista is supposed to be more “Unix-like”. We'll have to wait and see.

Let the “experts” put that in their pipe and smoke it!

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