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What's the Deal with Macs and Viruses?

posted Jul 31, 2011, 8:45 AM by Nathan Eliason   [ updated Jul 31, 2011, 9:18 AM ]
Remember the age of "I'm a Mac" ads when everything was simple? PCs got viruses, Macs didn't, end of story, right? Apple made sure that everyone who watched an ounce of TV knew that Macs were superior in simplicity and functionality, as well as creativity and security. In many occasions, the ads depicted a PC sick and infected with the latest viruses, while the Mac plainly denied even being able to get any. That's not really the case, as many people know, but why are PCs still so linked to viruses so commonly, while Macs seem to still be impervious to 90% of everything thrown at it?

(Note: although there are many other types of malicious software able to infect your PC, I'll stick with the generic term "virus" throughout the course of this article to represent each and every category and subcategory of nefarious program designed for evil purposes.)

Not too long ago, the decision between a computer running Windows and Apple's own creation wasn't much of one. The market was completely dominated by PCs, and if you wanted compatibility with all your favorite programs, and the ability to play the newest game as it came out, you got a PC. Because there wasn't much competition, developers wrote mainly for PC, while Mac users were stuck with the limited availability of programs in there operating system. If you were a hacker in this environment, you would most definitely write viruses for PC and not Mac, because your audience is so much greater, and you had a much better chance of getting anywhere with your virus. There were so few Macs on the internet (in comparison to PCs) that it didn't make much sense to aim for anything but PC. Of course, now the tables are turning, and Mac is rapidly expanding, with a growing potential for mass audience. This brings along a greater risk for viruses because there is a much broader Mac audience now, and the chances of success for a Macintosh virus, based simply on the number of computers connected to the internet in comparison to that of PC, is much better than that of just ten years ago.

At the core, Windows 7 and OS X, the most current operating systems for PCs and Macs respectively, are constructed from vastly different approaches, but both boil down to the same concept. Most claim that the reason Macintosh computers are so impervious to viruses is because they are based on UNIX. This is debatable, as any computer running an advanced operating system with much capability is susceptible to viruses. 

Later builds of OS X Snow Leopard, a newer operating system on Macs, includes an anti-malware program designed to detect and quarantine, then remove evil programs. Quietly confirming to the world that its computers aren't completely immune to the nefarious schemes of the internet. Even so, most Macs don't have anti-virus protection, and probably won't need it within the next five years. The entire structure and audience of Macintosh computers seems to repel most viruses itself. 

Don't mistake that I'm telling you not to protect your new shiny white thing from Apple. By all means, this article should be here to inform you that times are changing, and a new fleet of programs with evil intent is on its way. Macs can get viruses, and with a new consumer base, "hackers" and developers with evil on their mind are now beginning to write viruses for a type of computer that is less often protected with anti-virus programs.