OS X Goes Mainstream, Adds Malware

by Chris Seibold Jan 27, 2009

You remember the arguments about the Mac and viruses right? The pro Mac people posit that the Mac is inherently safer while the PC people argue that the reason Macs are virus free is because it isn't popular to earn the malware writer's precious time.

The whole Windows versus OS X thing has calmed down considerably since Vista showed up and OS X started making gains but it is time to realize that your Mac is only as safe as the person behind the keyboard. That's right, malware, nasty malware has come to the Mac.

The good news is that unless you're doing something you shouldn't be doing, specifically downloading illegal copies of iWork and Photoshop you don't have anything to worry about. This isn't some virus you get just by firing up Safari. Nope, this bit of malware gets installed when you install that copy of a program you didn't pay for. And to install the program you have to type in your password and have administrator level access.

Even the most blasé about computer security should realize that when you download something from an untrusted source on the internet and type in your password to install it you're doing the computing equivalent of of going to the infectious disease clinic and rolling around in the used needle bin. But, even though they know better, people are doing it.

Writing a program that will do something very unpleasant to your Mac is not difficult. When I wrote The Big Book of Apple Hacks one of the things I realized what just how easy it would be to do horrible things to someone else's computer if only they were willing to tell OS X that they wanted it installed. Sure, it would take a little social engineering but the evil, data erasing side side of it would be ridiculously easy to pull off.

OS X hasn't gotten any worse in the security department but the popularity of the OS has ticked up and now malware writers are thinking of OS X as a viable target. So where does that leave us when considering the Windows is less secure than OS X argument. The easy conclusion to reach is that OS X  is a hole ridden as Windows and the popularity will prove it. That conclusion is erroneaous.

The accurate conclusin is that doing patently stupid things on a computer connected to a network is a bad idea. And typing in your admin password to install a cracked version of expensive software qualifies as stupid. It doesn't matter if you're using OS X, Linux, Vista or BeOS. You can't blame Microsoft or Apple if you're passing out your admin password like candy on Halloween.

As always there is a rub. People will blame Apple for this as people will blame Microsft for Windows oriented malware. And the charge will stick both because people want to blame a corporation and because people don't want to admit any personal culpability. In the end, neither Microsoft or Apple code well enough to beat stupid.


  • Really?  Come on, this isn’t anything like the stealthy infections that are endemic with Windows.

    For example, anyone can write a script that will delete the contents of your drive.  It takes a deliberate action on the part of the user to actuate it, as does this “malware”. 

    Frankly, if you are stealing software from online sources, what do you expect?

    ronjamin had this to say on Jan 27, 2009 Posts: 5
  • You call it “malware”. I call it “just desserts”.

    Jim Stead had this to say on Jan 27, 2009 Posts: 10
  • “People will blame Apple for this as people will blame Microsft for Windows oriented malware.”

    Wrong.  Apple users will continue to blame Microsoft for EVERYTHING that happens to a Windows computer, from malware to hardware crashes.  But they blame USERS for everything that happens to a Mac.  If your the LCD on your iMac explodes, you must have done something wrong, regardless of circumstances.

    This won’t change anything.

    The fact is that, like this malware, almost all malware on the PC is the fault of careless users.  I don’t run any anti-virus software on my Vista machine and it’s completely malware-free, as is my iMac.  Because I don’t do things like downloading a bunch of crap from people I don’t know.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 27, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • I see what you’re saying Beeblebrox and I concur. I should’ve been clearer in the article. When I said “people” the general user not the Applemanity.

    For the real hard core Mac fan (any of those people left?) you know hat malware on the Mac means don’t you? It means Microsoft is doomed! Why buy a Windows machine when you can run malware with your Mac?

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jan 27, 2009 Posts: 354
  • LOL!  It’s now truly cross-compatible!

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 28, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • Well, I don’t entirely agree with you two. Anyone in support or that has been in support, with any common sense, knows that user error makes up the majority of issues. Most of that is based on ignorance of how stuff works in general or in relation to other things. In other words, most users have no idea how to even begin to analyze a computer problem and most don’t want to know. So if the computer stops working it’s the computers fault. When there are problems, regardless of the platform, they adopt a ” This computer is crap ” attitude.

    So ya, like you Beeb, I have very few problems on windows or mac. I use both platforms every single day. There are no problems I cannot fix myself but I am not the average user. Like I said before it doesn’t matter at all what platform I use because I will make it work for me.

    Out of the box I still believe that mac is better suited for that average user that still believes that that pop up will really save them money or win them a prize. That chain letters really do bring them luck or save them form being jinxed. That the internet “comes” with the computer and lets not forget one of my favorites ‘oh , you have to empty the trash?’

    IMHO these users are the majority and should be the consideration when talking these kinds of things out. It’s not realistic to base it on the much smaller percentage of somewhat proficient users.

    Wundryn II had this to say on Jan 28, 2009 Posts: 11
  • Wundryn, what you’re saying is that most of the time, problems are caused by careless and ignorant users.  You are agreeing with me, not disagreeing.

    Your argument also supports the notion of Mac’s security via obscurity.  If those same ignorant and careless users made up 90% of the market, and those pop-ups and chain letters targeted them instead, then Macs would be just as malware-ridden as PCs are now.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 28, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • “If those same ignorant and careless users made up 90% of the market,”

    Sorry, but I meant to say those 90% were Mac users instead of Windows users.  Just to clarify.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 28, 2009 Posts: 2220
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