More Security, Less Safety

October 31, 2007

Dave Snowden has been extolling the virtues of Apple machines almost ad nauseum to me. He constantly tries to convince me that if only I had an Apple like his, my life would be complete, easy, comfortable, luscious. So I took the bait and clicked when I saw this CNET headline, “More security, less safety — The Secure Mac: Myth or Legend?” Perhaps, I reasoned, it would offer some satisfying tidbit of information that would allow me to say “Hang on a minute, Snowden…” (In much the same way I did when we were working together recently in Boston and my staid, boring old T60 could pick up the wireless signal in the room where we were working while his sleek, hip, friendly Apple required a trip to a precise location in the hotel lobby.)

Anyway, the article (written by David Braue) addressed the question, “Do Mac users need to run antivirus software?” The answer, apparently, is “No.” Here’s what Kevin Long, a network and security specialist with Verizon Business Security Solutions and the company’s Mac security expert offered as an explanation:

“The reason is not that there are no security issues on the Mac; it is not impervious,” he explained. “But we have seen no replicating viruses on the Mac. And when we talk about risk, we use an equation–threat times vulnerability times cost–to figure out the cost of an attack.”

Given this method, Long says the risks of introducing still-unstable antivirus software to protect against a still-minimal virus threat are just too great. “Antivirus software doesn’t just sit on top of the operating system,” he continues. “It has its fingers down deep in there, and if something goes wrong it can foul things up. Antivirus software on the Mac is just not as mature [as on Windows], and every time you put new processes on your system it can introduce stability and security issues.”

So what do you think about this decision? I liked the fact that he didn’t just immediately adopt some other IT department’s “best practice” of always loading up on the virus protection. Perhaps the crafters of the Homeland Security Act should take a peek at this…

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