Written by WATYF on Wednesday, 22 February 2006 (5052 hits)
Category: Apple Bashing
You know... it seems like just last week that Mac users were sitting... all smug and metrosexual... in their coffee shops... wearing their ridiculously over-priced Diesel jeans... sipping their lattes... and feeling all secure in the "fact" that their computers were "safer" than the "inferior" Windows PCs of the "lesser" humans.
Oh wait.... that was just last week. AAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
And then... a little thing I like to call "reality" set it... and the ginormous myth that Mac's are "impervious" to viruses was dashed against the brutal rocks of inevitability. For in one week's time we have seen not one..... not two.... but THREE viruses/security flaws appear on the radar screen.
And the best part about it is.... they just keep gettin' better.
First off... these viruses aren't technically the "first" for Mac OS X. There have been other tojans and viruses created prior to this. But they weren't actually released out into the wild and didn't really pose much of a threat. This latest string includes viruses that are out and about, functioning like any good virus should , as well as some viruses that are just plain cooler than the previous ones.
Before I go on, I'd like to say that I'm going to use the term "virus" as a general catch-all for viruses, worms, trojans, etc.... please don't waste my time telling me that Leap-A is actually a trojan and not a virus, because I know, and I don't care.
So... that said... let's take a look at the lovely parade of viruses that have been coming down the pike all week.
Exhibit A - The Leap-A Trojan: This one got the most press, obviously, since it was the first "real" Mac virus to ever hit the wild and actually affect users. Basically, it's a script embedded in a file that "poses" as an image file, which is embedded in a tgz file (the Mac version of a "zip" file). The file has the icon of a jpeg (even though it isn't one), so some users are tricked into opening it. This is the least effective kind of virus. It requires the user to be rather stupid in order for it to spread (which it does via instant messaging systems, such as iChat). First, you have to download the attachment, then you have to unzip the file, then you have to open the "jpeg". So, it's not exactly the most sophisticated "exploit" ever. To top it off, it doesn't even have a malicious payload (i.e. it doesn't do anything bad to your computer). It pretty much just spreads itself around for no good reason (which is what many viruses do).
Of course, the first thing that happened was all the frothing-at-the-mouth Mac-heads went to great lengths to tell everyone how this wasn't even really a virus... and that it didn't really exploit anything... and how it didn't prove anything... and "Macs are still the rulers of all things "computing", and don't you ever suggest otherwise... waaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!"
Anyway... the reality is... it's a trjoan... just like the ones that hit PCs. It does affect users... it does propagate itself... it is real... and you can't make it go away just by burying your head in the LCD screen of your iPod and turning your Radiohead up louder.
Exhibit B - Inqtana.A: This is actually more of a proof-of-concept virus, but it has interesting implications. Inqtana is basically a Bluetooth virus for Mac OS X. Unlike most viruses, it doesn't spread via the internet or email or messaging systems (like pretty much every other virus). It uses the Bluetooth protocol to try to "push" itself out to any other users that might be in range. Now... Bluetooth has a very short range, so it's not like someone who "caught" this virus a couple miles away from you could give it to you. You'd literally have to be standing next to them in order to catch it. But that's what makes it so interesting. More and more people are using wireless technology and more and more people are carrying around portable computing devices (laptops, PDAs, etc), so the idea of a Bluetooth virus is quite intriguing. This will most likely not be the end of the line for Bluetooth viruses... but rather, it may very well become one of the great-great granddaddies of the viruses of the future. Inqtana has not been sighted out in the wild, and the likelihood of it spreading is very remote, due to the limitations of Bluetooth, and the fact that a patch has already been released by Apple.
Exhibit C - The latest Mac OS X Security Hole: This one is the Mac Daddy (pun intended )... the Piece de Resistance... the Smoking Gun... the final nail in the coffin of the great Mac security myth. And it's not even a virus (or trojan or worm or whatever). It's just a flaw in Mac's OS X that they recently discovered. This is one of those things you hear about (all too often) in press releases from Microsoft or some security firm that let's everybody know about the latest hole in Windows' security.... except this time, it's not Windows that has the holes in it. And this isn't even the first flaw of its kind for OS X, but the latest "rash" (hee hee) of Mac viruses just makes this one all the more pertinent.
It doesn't look like an exploit (i.e. a real virus) has been written to take advantage of this yet, but its very existence is what makes it so profound. You see, all it would take is one hacker to write an exploit for this and it would be the first malicious, effective virus ever to be written for the Mac. It works just like a modern Windows virus... it doesn't require you to be stupid... it doesn't require you to be within ten feet of someone using Bluetooth... all you have to do is visit the wrong website, and bam! you got a virus... just like us "poor, deprived" Windows users. That's why this is so huge... flaws like this bridge the gap between PCs and Macs. If there were as many Mac users out there as there are PC users, someone would have already written an exploit for this, and it would be makin' it's rounds in Europe or Asia or the US or wherever.
A few sites have tossed around the theory of whether or not Macs are safer because they have a smaller market. Some still claim that it's not the market share that makes Macs safer, but the OS itself. I'm gonna beg to differ... and this latest flaw supports it. There just aren't enough people using Macs that an OS X virus could spread with any earth-shaking effectiveness. That's what hackers want. Yeah, if someone writes a Mac virus they'll get a bit of press among the nerds. But if they take down an entire country's stock market, they'll get a ton of press all over the world. Once Macs become more prevalent, they will get targeted more because they do have security holes that will get exploited eventually.
And yes... I know that you can avoid this particular flaw by turning off a default option in Safari, but that's exactly how you avoid a huge amount of flaws in Windows as well.... by turning off default options that leave you vulnerable. This just puts Mac users and Windows users in the same boat, in that respect.
And yes... I know that there are over 100,000 viruses out there for Windows and only a handful for OS X. But that's not the point... the point is, change is inevitable. A week ago, people were saying things about OS X's security that are no longer true. Things change. And the ratio of Windows to Mac viruses will change as the Mac platform gets more popular, which will happen, because people are stupid and willing to pay too much for a computer just so they can look cool. And they're also gullible enough to think that said computer is "safe" just because that's what everyone has always said about it. Macs are still safer than PCs, no doubt, but recent events show that it will not always be that way.
And, if I had to guess, I'd say that the great Mac myth of "invincibility" will probably be the largest contributor to the eventual proliferation of the Mac virus.... mark my words.... this is just the beginning....