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I just read an extensive article titled "The malware myth" which addresses the whole issue of whether the Mac will eventually wind up just as messed up as most Windows PC's as more and more people use Macs everyday. There are things mentioned specifically about the inner workings of Windows (like the Windows Registry) that I don't really understand but seem to be fundamental to this issue in relation to the two operating systems.

The entire article is posted on my blog:  http://jwsound.net/WP/?page_id=32

-  Jeff Wexler

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Anyone who is seriously interested in any possible vulnerabilities with the Mac (or with their Windows machine for that matter) should read further articles that analyze all these contests to hack or exploit whatever it is they have chosen to demonstrate.

read more:  http://www.roughlydrafted.com/2008/03/29/mac-shot-first-10-reasons-why-cansecwest-targets-apple/

One real world indication of the present state of affairs, on both the Mac and Windows platforms, would be to put up a poll here: something like "using your Mac, how many viruses, Trojan horses, malware pop-ups, denial of service exploits, etc." have you had in the last year; and, "using your Windows PC, how many and how often have you had to deal with ... " This might give us some idea of how any of these controlled and demonstrated competitive hacks and and attacks actually could affect any of us.

-  Jeff Wexler

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not to start a war with anyone here as everyone as their own opinions. but both MAC and Windows each have their own weakness, but if you stay off the internet all OS's are safe.

No wars are being started, just discussion (I hope). Staying off the Internet isn't an option. My comment about methods employed at the contests was aimed at understanding that once many of these exploits are discovered or revealed (and people win prizes, job offers and so forth) it is important to understand if these are important security breaches and how they might affect you and your computer.

-  JW

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I just read an extensive article titled "The malware myth" which addresses the whole issue of whether the Mac will eventually wind up just as messed up as most Windows PC's...

-  Jeff Wexler

I have over 50 PCs and 4 Macs, most of which are used hard every day. All of them work very well. None of them are messed up.

Glen Trew

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I have over 50 PCs and 4 Macs, most of which are used hard every day. All of them work very well. None of them are messed up.

Glen Trew

Glen, you are not the sort of computer user that I would suspect has ANY of your computers messed up --- you are smarter than that. I am referring to the quite commonly held fact in many people's computing life that their PCs are messed up. In all fairness, I have friends with Macs whose computers are all messed up (but usually in all sorts of other ways --- not from viruses, malware, pop-ups, etc.).

-  JW

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Glen, you are not the sort of computer user that I would suspect has ANY of your computers messed up --- you are smarter than that. I am referring to the quite commonly held fact in many people's computing life that their PCs are messed up. In all fairness, I have friends with Macs whose computers are all messed up (but usually in all sorts of other ways --- not from viruses, malware, pop-ups, etc.).

-  JW

Thanks  Jeff, but I think I'm exactly the type that would have problems with a computer, but I don't and I think most others don't either. I have to suspect that the thought of one system being more or less fallible than the other is a hold over from another time when the differences were much more distinct. They are so much alike now that most people will never notice a difference in performance and reliability, much less appreciate the advantages that both have. It's become more like Ford vs. Chevy, or Mercedes vs. BMW (in my opinion). Of course there are exceptions, but to declare one is absolutely better than the other these days would be difficult to justify (also in my opinion).

gt

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Well, while there is a lot more talk of viruses on PC's and there are a lot more documented viruses on PC's I'm not sure the end user experience has been drastically different.  PC folks (I was one) have lots of virus protection apps and tend to use them so I don't think the virus issue is as great as the hype.  I was on PC's on DOS, Win 3.0 - Win 98.  In all that time I only had one virus and it was a mail related one.  For work I switched to Mac's at OS6.4 and am still on Mac's.  We had one half of a two part virus once on the Mac's (pre OSX) and I haven't met anybody that has had a virus on OSX.  Well actually one person I know had a Word virus but it was a pass through in that it doesn't work on OSX but the document he got altered and passed on kept the virus, so I don't think that counts.

This is not an OS critique, I think a lot of people who have "messed up" PC's are not the victims of a virus.  More likely they are victims of Windows, which is loaded with ways of getting "messed up" with a little help from the user.

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The best defense I've found over the past four years is to purchase a Hardware Router/Firewall. Configure the system using static IPs ( I find this easier to manage over DHCP ) be done with all the malware.

Combine the hardware router with a decent virus scanner and you'll never have a problem ( knock on wood! ). I haven't seen any spyware and/or ads ( that actively takes over the computer ) in the four years I've been using this setup.

Most of my experience has been with two PC's running Windows XP with the latest Service Packs and updates.

-Ron

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I haven't owned a windows machine in almost a decade, so I can't comment on the difference, but I have never had a virus or malware on my macs.

I did however find a Romanian server trying to brute force hack into my studio machine last week. Thousands upon thousands of login attempts using different user names hoping to automatically guess it's way in. Although unsuccessful, it did force me to update my computer security level to stop the attempts from happening in the first place.

Stopping malware isn't always about the is vulnerability, but sometimes how we setup and use or machines. Security isn't just a matter of trusting your software, but is a combination of things including strong passwords, firewalls, anti virus software, secure key authentication, etc...

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Stopping malware isn't always about the is vulnerability, but sometimes how we setup and use or machines. Security isn't just a matter of trusting your software, but is a combination of things including strong passwords, firewalls, anti virus software, secure key authentication, etc...

So do you run a firewall and virus scanner directly on your mac?

I have been a mac user for 8 years, but coming from thr windows side I was concerned about virusses. I did try various security programmes, but gave up after a while (except for the firewalls that's built into the router and the one which is part of the MacOS) because the programmes seemed to be causing more trouble than they were saving. So I am curious what you are using

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did definitely run into occasional Mac viruses in the early 1990s under OS 7, but somewhere around OS 8 and above, all the viruses went away. But on my Windows machines, I'd occasionally download one piece of freeware -- claimed to be "virus-free" and within 24 hours, the Windows machine was choking with malware, viruses, adware, and spyware. This was with Windows XP, ME, and Vista. No issues with Windows 7 yet, and I have yet to change to Windows 8.

 

I use Windows occasionally under protest, but anything can do the job as long as you take precautions.

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I have seen an OSX Mac get brought down by a virus it was an inffected office document

 

Yes, there was a thing a few years ago where Excel macros and also infected Acrobat PDF documents would take down a Mac. But that also goes for Windows machines.

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When I worked for a major American magazine publisher our magazine used Macs while most of the other mags used WIndows machines. There would be regular email blasts from corporate IT about the latest virus threat to the companies machines, followed minutes later by a message from out mag's IT department saying, "Don't worry, we're using Macs, it's a WIndows problem."

 

The corporate big wigs used Macs...

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So do you run a firewall and virus scanner directly on your mac?

I have been a mac user for 8 years, but coming from thr windows side I was concerned about virusses. I did try various security programmes, but gave up after a while (except for the firewalls that's built into the router and the one which is part of the MacOS) because the programmes seemed to be causing more trouble than they were saving. So I am curious what you are using

I do not use any anti-virus software, in my experience the Norton type utilities screw as many things up as they fix.  One of the benefits of being in a Unix architecture is that all of the sysetm and programs are completely seperate, all using their own individual files instead of a central database like the windows registry.  This mean if one program gets corrupted / infected, it's much harder to affect the rest of the system, and much easier to quarantine and fix.

The threats and issues I worry about on macs are more like the issue I had recently, someone trying to log in, or someone sending me an infected document, but I rarely think about viruses, malware, trojan horses etc...  I do use a firewall on my router, and since I have my computer setup so I can log in remotely (which I do frequently), I've switched to using non standard ports, and recently have blocked user / pass authentication, so only the devices I own can log in.  I plan to start using a VPN for an additional layer of security, whenever I find the time to set it up.

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There isn't as much diff between mac and w7 etc as there used to be between mac/pc in the pre unix days.  I've always had both types--currently 4 macs and 2 soon to be 4 Win computers, and haven't had any probs either way.  I don't use freeware from download sites and I don't open attachments much.  You don't get to be internet stupid with any computer (or device) anymore.

 

philp

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There isn't as much diff between mac and w7 etc as there used to be between mac/pc in the pre unix days. I've always had both types--currently 4 macs and 2 soon to be 4 Win computers, and haven't had any probs either way. I don't use freeware from download sites and I don't open attachments much. You don't get to be internet stupid with any computer (or device) anymore.

philp

But you do use virus scanner/firewall on your pc? And on your mac as well? Or none on either?

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I've also used the free Avast on my PCs with no problems (along the free Zone Alarm firewall).. I recently switched to Norton 360 which came free w/ with my a new service provider.. I think  N 360 slowed the connection down slightly though.

That said, I have no antivirus apps on my post-production NLE/DAW, which is not connected to the web. Internet access and file transfers are done through the other machine.

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Although it’s an old thread I understand that this topic will always be relevant. Nobody wants a ruined day because of malware. And it happens that my real job is computer and network security. So maybe I have some advice/hints to share.

 

I use Mac OS X since 2003 for my job. Previously I used a mixture of Unix operating systems, for example FreeBSD since 1995, and I can’t endure Windows at all. And guess what do my friends and colleagues use? Yes, Mac OS X.  

 

So, what’s different between Windows and Mac OS X? This needs a bit of historical context together with a very superficial explanation of some operating system architecture issues. But I promise I will keep gory details to a bare minimum.

 

Unix, perceived by many as an arcane ultra complicated beast, is actually a very simple OS. It was born as a reaction to the development of Multics, a very complicated system. It has a very simple security model (too simple for these crafty days, but more on this later). However, simplicity has an advantage which I am sure board members do really appreciate. Configure a SD recorder and you are ready to go. It’s operation is foolproof because the user interface is so well thought out. Yep, I love my MixPre 3 :)

 

Unix lost its virginity back in 1988, a long time ago, when a worm/virus (some papers went to great length to determina wether to call it virus or worm) spread over the early Internet. The damage caused by the panic reaction with institutions disconnecting their networks was actually worse than the malware itself and several lessons were learned.

 

Windows. For a start, it started its life as an abomination. You have to be really familiar with with computer architecture issues in order to understand it, so let me use a parallel case. Look at your carts and bags. Calculate how much you have spent on excellent components just in order to avoid minor issues that can quickly escalate to disaster in a shot. Cables, adapters, antennas, splitters, preamps, filters... Again, you buy equipment from manufacturers who really understand how to manage problems. Even a cheap (by SD standards) MixPre-3 has a power management facility that can disable phantom power for an input in order to keep running. 

 

Windows was the opposite case. The very stupid architecture of the processor of the first PCs forced developers to do really stupid things in order to make software actually work. Instead of focusing on designing good software, programmers had to spend a lot of energy in fighting the environment. And the OS itself was an astonishingly poor foundation. Bad for an OS, which should be a reliable backbone. 

 

Software design is much more complex than it seems. If the operating system/development environment is poorly thought out, problems go out of control and your design will be poor because you had to spread your effort instead of focusing properly.

 

Now, the Internet happened. As I mentioned, Unix had lost its virginity. Back in 1998 a book was published, “Computers Under Attack”, by Peter Dening. A really good reading even for people not very familiar with the subject. At that time computers were simpler than today. I always wonder wether someone from Microsoft read it, let alone understand its content. Windows wasn’t Internet capable until the early 90’s, when you had to install an additional TCP/IP package. Windows 95 brought the Internet, but with a twist. Microsoft tried to create its own Internet and Windows 95 shipped with a crippled version that only connected to the Microsoft Network. Of course it was an epic failure. 

 

Now, while in the Unix world lessons had been learned, it wasn’t the case at Microsoft. In the 90’s Microsoft was in a worse security state than Unix in the 80’s. So they begun with their Christmas tree software design. Also, in order to subvert the WWW standards, hijacking the Internet and hoping that only Windows systems would work they added a special component to their web browser, Internet Explorer, called ActiveX. They partly succeeded in the hijack attempt, I remember that many websites were unusable unless you ran Windows. 

 

ActiveX was an unmitigated disaster from the security point of view. There was an alternative, Java, but of course Microsoft hated it because it meant that programs ran independently of the operating system. They even tried to subvert it by launching their own tweaked version and hoping that their critical mass of users would mean that developers would adopt the “tweaks”, making platform agnostic Java programs Windows dependent. 

 

They also decided to add “macros” to Office. Again, an unmitigated disaster with dreadful consequences more than 20 years later. Why? Because they didn’t design it properly. The Christmas tree philosophy meant “lets throw anything we can inside”, so each program seems to do everything, while the Unix philosophy is exactly the opposite. Each program does ONE task and you have mechanism to have them cooperate. 

 

Of course there was an elephant in the room that affected both Unix and Windows: So called buffer overflows, a class of security problems caused by the C programming language. They were first publicly known in 1988 and they can still be a nightmare. That said, proper software design helps a lot against overflows. Confusing, chaotic “design” makes it easier to make security mistakes.

 

And those were the basic ingredients in Windows. ActiveX, Office Macros, and a Christmas tree proliferation of multiple unsecured services that led to the Windows worm incidents of the early 2000’s. At that time it took 10 - 15 minutes for a freshly connected Windows system to go down unless it had a firewall in front of it. 

 

On the other hand, Apple has been doing things much better. They have had a share of slips (and even stupid mistakes) but not close to the level of stupidity displayed by Microsoft. Moreover, since 2003 they have been steadily and quietly making under the hood changes. Some even visible and facing vocal opposition from developers like the extensive sand boxing. 

 

Are Macs less vulnerable because there are fewer of them? I don’t think so. IOS is very popular and, how many incidents have you seen? Vry few if any, and mostly caused by the “jail breaking” that implies breaking some of the security mechanisms. 

 

To make things even worse, and cross platform, other widely used programs had their share of problems. Adobe Flash (a real disgrace, thankfully almost phased out) and the Adobe PDF reader for example. Thankfully, with PDF being mostly standard, Apple developed their own reader which doesn’t suffer from the same security problems in Adobe’s program. On the other hand Microsoft always fought PDF vigorously, which meant Windows users were forced to use Adobe’s reader. 

 

In one line, what’s wrong with Adobe’s version? Mostly some “additional” features in the form of “JavaScript macros”. Sounds like Office? Yep!

 

So, what’s better with Mac OS X, despite the lack of magic properties that some attribute to Unix? Several things in my opinion. 

 

First: simplicity. I am talking about underplaying architecture, not user interface.

 

Second: the user interface. Windows tends to bomb the user with countless dialogs asking stupid questions. Windows users suffer from “sensory overload” that makes them click “OK” without thinking. That’s not good. Moreover, Microsoft has often encouraged risky behavior by their users. Like mailing executable programs because they didn’t bother to include a file compression utility. Sounds familiar?

 

Third: Avoiding some of the stupid mistakes made by Microsoft, Apple made the Macs a tougher target. This is more important than it seems and the result in the medical world is called “group immunity”. If you want to launch a malware campaign and you hope to infect only some hundreds of users, not just because of platform popularity but because of the difficulty of achieving an infection, well, you will move to riper fruit. Won’t you? 

 

Fourth: Apple have understood that modern computers are single user “multi application” systems in which it’s desirable to protect one application from another one. With sand boxing you might suffer a compromise in your text editor but that shouldn’t lead to, say, accessing other private files. Such hard line protections make intrusions useless, again adding to group immunity. IOS is the most extreme case of sand boxing. 

 

Now, some security advice for Mac OS X users.

 

First: Delete the Flash plugin. 

 

Second: Unless you really need Java, delete it. Although recently they have added so many checks and confirmations and the risk is relatively low. Java is not bad but it has its risks anyway.

 

Third: Forget about Office. Avoid it like the plague. I don’t think it’s even possible to disable the risky macros completely.

 

Fourth: Use Apple’s PDF reader instead of Adobe’s. Delete Adobe’s program. If you absolutely need it to read certain documents, do what I do. Install, use and delete. Nowadays it’s a 5 minute matter. And always tell the person who sent you a non standard PDF to use proper standards.

 

Fifth: Configure Mac OS X to run programs only from the App Store. You can still run other programs but you won’t do it by mistake. It’s a good barrier to prevent accidents. (The explanation is long)

 

Sixth: Always install security updates. If not possible (I know some audio software can be troublesome) try using an alternative web browser such as Firefox. You can update Firefox without updating the whole OS, minimizing the risk of effects on fragile audio software.

 

Seventh: Beware pirated programs. The best security system can’t prevent damage if you trust a program and actually run it. 

 

What will the future bring? I don’t know. Apple keeps working under the hood although there is an ongoing battle between developers of third party applications and Apple. Developers don’t want their applications crippled by security mechanisms. 

 

That’s it for now. I may add some information if needed, this has been mostly a quick brain dump. 

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