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The Mac OS X Virus Report: Why the Disconnect?

For months, you’ve been hearing the same old story. As Mac OS X becomes more and more popular, and Windows users continue to switch to Apple’s platform, the rise of malware is inevitable. Before you know it, Mac OS X will be subject to some of the same irritants that are inflicted on the Windows platform.

Now it’s quite true that, whenever a new Apple Security Update appears, you hear those claims all over again. The Internet criminals are just aching to be among the first to overwhelm Mac OS X with their spyware, viruses, Trojan Horses, and all the rest of that malicious garbage. Soon they’ll be turning Macs into spam-bots, so you better get ready to share the same level of misery experienced by your friends and neighbors on the Windows platform.

It’s enough to full you with feelings of togetherness for your fellow PC users, since you’ll soon be in the same boat.

Except that it never seems to happen. Sure, there are lots and lots of potential security leaks, most of which are quickly repaired by Apple. The recent 10.4.9 update, for example, patched a bunch of them. Indeed, there are likely plenty of additional tiny pathways that could be exploited, thus creating the appropriate climate for malware. Or at least that’s the theory, although the risks don’t appear to be all that great. But some of the fear-merchants won’t tell you that, because it doesn’t drive traffic to their sites and their articles.

Then there are those “proof-of-concept” viruses, which do harm in the laboratory but haven’t spread into the wild. No, I would not suggest for a moment that the makers of security software have manufactured these viruses to sell more product when there is apparently no reason to do it otherwise.

So you have to wonder: Isn’t there a huge incentive for the creators of malware to create the first real Mac OS X virus? Shouldn’t they be lining up to spread their nasty wares into the Mac universe?

Is there something about the Mac OS X platform that discourages the scourge of the Internet? Could it be that virus authors actually like Macs, so they don’t want to cause us any harm?

This is not something that I would take too seriously, of course. After all, the biggest motive today for malware is simple greed. An infected PC can be taken over and used to spread spam to your mailboxes and mine and all the other computer users on the planet. Spammers do it for ill-gotten gains, and for that there are no platform distinctions.

Now some might argue that Mac OS X is safe because of obscurity, but how is an operating system with some 22 million users obscure?

Maybe it’s just harder for those exploits to overwhelm a Mac, because you have to give a password for most new software installations, whereas you don’t under Windows Vista, even with its allegedly enhanced security model.

Maybe we’re just lucky.

Or perhaps they are just waiting in the wings, ready to inundate the Mac platform with malware when we least expect it. But I’m not a fear monger, so I wouldn’t presume to suggest any such thing.

My opinion, such as it is, might be considered a little less logical. We’re just lucky, that’s all. As the Mac platform continues to gain traction, the virus infections will appear, perhaps when we least expect it.

Meantime, I am of mixed opinions about whether you should install virus protection software, or even a full-fledged Internet security suite. To be sure, it probably won’t do any harm. Although virus protection applications have, from time to time, been notorious for causing slowdowns and conflicts of their own, this doesn’t happen much anymore.

Moreover, once malware erupts, you may not have sufficient time to rush out and buy a copy or download the software to stop the infection in its tracks.

You see, it’s not a matter of if, but of when.