The Security of Mac OS


Question:
Why are Macintosh computers thought to be safer from worms and viruses?

Answer:
The sheer dominance of Windows — along with its history of security issues — has traditionally made it a tempting target for those who write viruses, worms and other malicious programs. Over the years, Macintosh owners have enjoyed a relatively safer operating system, thanks to stricter default security settings and a much smaller user population, which may not be large enough to attract the interest of worm writers.

But this is not to say that the Mac OS X operating system is completely secure and will remain so. Although they were not widespread, two worms designed to infiltrate Mac OS X appeared last February, as did a serious vulnerability with the way the Safari Web browser handles files.

These were minor incidents, but they did prove that Mac OS X was not impervious to attack. With Apple's switch to Intel processors and increased visibility in the computing realm, some security experts have expressed concern that more malicious code may be aimed at Macs.

As holes in the system are discovered, Apple Computer issues patches for Mac OS X — a security update released this spring, for example, fixed 31 vulnerabilities on Mac OS X, Safari and other parts of the system. (An overview of security features in Mac OS X is at www.apple.com/macosx/features/security.) Sites like SecureMac (www.securemac.com) and MacInTouch (www.macintouch.com) keep tabs on the topic, too.

For now, though, Windows still draws most of the virus and worm attention.

Microsoft releases frequent security updates for Windows, and moved a few years ago to improve overall security with Windows XP Service Pack 2 — which automatically turns on the system's firewall and shores up other defenses. The company outlines its own approach to security at www.microsoft.com/security. The coming Windows Vista system is made to be more resistant to attack than previous versions of Windows.