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July 2012The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Operating Systems and Security

For a long time it has been claimed that by switching from Windows to an Apple would eliminate the possibility of your system being infected by a virus. Apple have now admitted that their operating system by itself does not eliminate the possibility of a virus.

In fact it has never been true that the Apple OS would protect you from viruses. What has been true is that so few people were using Apple computers that those creating viruses preferred to write them for more popular operating systems where it would be more likely that they could infect more computers. The only reason Apple computers didn't get infected was that no one was writing viruses to infect Apple computers.

Now this didn't mean that Apple computers didn't get viruses. Viruses targetted at windows would be delivered to Apple computers as attachments to emails just the same as they would to people running any other operating system. Because their computer was supposedly immune to viruses the Apple computer would be unlikely to have any virus protection installed and the virus could therefore be passed intact to try to infect the computers of the Apple owners friends who were running Windows. The virus writers really appreciated the assistance that Apple owners not running virus protection provided in helping to spread their Windows viruses.

The truth is that Windows is the operating system that has undergone the most testing of its built in security measures (mostly done by the virus writers who have uncovered just about every security hole that the Windows operating system has so that Microsoft can fix it). The most secure operating system that exists is Windows because almost all of the security holes have been discovered and fixed. The other operating systems that have not undergone such thorough security testing are now far more likely to contain many more security holes that could be exploited by viruses than Windows does. The only reason that these other operating systems haven't been getting infected is that the virus writers have been so busy helping Microsoft to make their operating system more secure that they haven't had the time to look for all the holes in the other operating systems (which due to the far fewer number of users would affect fewer computers).

Of course you can't keep increasing the security of an operating system such as Windows indefinitely without eventually ensuring that the majority of users will be relatively safe from attack. Eventually it reaches the point where those smaller numbers of people who could be infected by attacking an easier target starts to look promising to at least some virus writers. That time has arrived and now at least some of the virus writers have started writing viruses to attack less secure operating systems such as that which runs on Apple computers.

While running less popular software makes it less likely that the software will be a target and so gives the impression of greater security, this is a totally false impression. It is just security through obscurity in another guise and such security is in reality non-existent. It is a good thing that Apple now admit that their operating system can be attacked by viruses. Of course they ought to have been saying that all along since it is in fact no more open to attack now than it has ever been. All that has changed is that the unlocked door has now been opened and so Apple need to take the action to close and lock it again. Far better would have been to lock the door in the first place by telling all Apple users right from the start that their computers were as exposed to getting viruses as everyone else's and that at the very least that they ought to be running security software so that they would not be responsible for spreading Windows viruses to their friends.

Just because a given virus targets a particular operating system doesn't mean that you shouldn't care about it if you are running a different operating system. If your system doesn't identify and remove the virus then you will be responsible for it potentially spreading from your computer to those of others who are running the operating system that it is targetting.

One thing that is fairly certain is that those running Windows will be far less likely to be responsible for helping to spread Apple viruses to their friends than those with an Apple have been.

Just as a final note, while the above specifically refers to the Apple operating system which is now being attacked by viruses, most of the same is true of Linux and any other operating systems that you may decide to run instead. Windows is the operating system that has been targetted by the most viruses and is the most secure operating system as a direct result of all of those attacks.

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