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Yes, Macs Can Get Malware

Posted on June 26th, 2012 by

The Apple website recently changed their website to say they are “built safer“, rather than stating that they don’t get viruses. I applaud this change. It’s more honest, and more accurate.

The famous ad that focused on this “virus free” claim was always skirting the edges of accuracy. They implied that Windows viruses can’t be caught by Macs, which is sort of obvious and also basically wrong. True, the vast majority of Windows malware will not work on OS X; that’s kind of like saying the vast majority of words in Chinese don’t mean anything to an English speaker. You don’t say!

But there are plenty of words that have meaning in both Chinese and English, though they probably mean different things in each language. Similarly, there are malware that work on both Windows and OS X, though they may work differently on each.

More problematic to me is some of the coverage that has come from this slogan change. Yes, Mac malware is still vastly less numerous than Windows malware, and is likely to be for the foreseeable future. But then descriptions get weird. For instance, some articles are saying Mac malware is also less dangerous. And that the presence of malware proves that Macs are buggy.

Okay, for starters, what constitutes danger? In my book, if malware opens a backdoor to your computer, that’s plenty dangerous. In most risk assessment scenarios that would constitute “unlimited damage potential”; they can do whatever they want to your machine.

And as for admitting to Macs being buggy, gimme a break. I can’t say I have ever heard anyone say Macs are bug-free. Less buggy, yes. But never that they’re immune to bugs. Computers are run by software, software is written and run by humans, and humans make mistakes. Ergo, bugs happen.

Let’s not overstate the case. Macs are awesome. They work well. But there is risk; there are bugs, there are vulnerabilities, there are malware. They’re not harmless, and it’s also not the end of the world. You can protect yourself, and if you behave safely and intelligently, you can minimize your risk.

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