remain more secure in the digital online world
Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business
High Tech Office column; April 10-16, 2007; issue 911
According to statistics posted recently on McAfee
’s Avert Labs blog by Marius van Oers
, the security and
anti-virus company is aware of some 236,000 “malicious malware items”
such as computer viruses and spyware.
those nearly quarter million nasty bits and pieces, about 700 are aimed
at computers running various Unix and Linux operating systems. Mac OS X
is the target of seven.
Nearly all of the rest are aimed at Microsoft Windows users.
question Windows users tend to ask, however, is a good one. Are there
fewer viruses and spyware aimed at the Mac and Linux because these
platforms are inherently more secure than Windows, or are these
computing platforms simply less tempting targets for malware because of
their minority status?
Often, when a question seems to have more
than one answer, both explanations account for part of the answer.
Infectious diseases are more likely to spread when people are packed
tightly together in cities than when a population is thinly spread. The
same is true for computer viruses; the large number of Windows users
makes it easy for infections to spread from one computer to another and
offer malware creators more return on their effort.
years, Microsoft made a number of design decisions for Windows and
other software products that traded security for ease of customization
For instance, the macro language bundled with Microsoft
Office (Visual Basic for Applications) made it possible for power users
to automate complex tasks. That same power made it equally possible to
use VBA to infect Word and Excel documents.
Windows 2000 and XP
users typically run (whether they know it or not) as administrative
users with full power to install and remove software, make changes to
the system setup and more. But when you’re logged on in that way,
spyware and viruses can also install themselves and make system changes
without needing authorization. They can even do this invisibly in the
background. Running the computer as a limited user would be safer, but
most users don’t do that; those that try it tend to give it up – too
many everyday tasks, such as installing Microsoft’s own updates, fail
It’s not the same for Linux and Mac OS X users. No
matter how they’re logged on to their computer, they get asked to type
their password for any software installation that’s going to change the
Unlike on a typical Windows system any virus or
spyware trying to install itself would have to ask for explicit
approval. The result: it’s much harder to infect a Linux or Mac system,
so users spend less time on security and more on getting their work
Microsoft’s new Windows Vista tries to copy that: what
Microsoft calls User Account Control is turned on by default. As on a
Mac, UAC requires user approval before system changes can be made.
Microsoft, however, made the list of actions needing approval much
larger: even renaming an icon on the Desktop may require multiple OKs.
More secure, but also more annoying.
There is an irony, however.
As mentioned in last week’s column, a big selling point for the latest
generations of Macs is their newfound ability to run Windows and
Whether running on a Mac or any other PC, Windows remains just as
vulnerable to those 236,000 malicious malware items.