Et tu, Mac?

Thomas R. Temin

I am less smug about my personal computing choices than I was a couple of weeks ago.

There I was on April 8, on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, out of range of e-mail and TV, blissfully unaware of news of a new virus. Ships now have Internet cafes and satellite TV, but I ignored them, preferring the casino.

And what did I come home to? News that a Trojan horse had been discovered for Apple OS X, the splendid operating system shipped with all Macs for the last couple of years. Macworld magazine reported that software developer Intego of Austin, Texas, announced the new virus.

In October 2002, I got so fed up at home with Microsoft Windows machines and their constant crashes and vulnerabilities, I literally chucked them out of my house and went to a then-new Apple store and bought an iMac. I've since added an iBook to my wireless LAN.

OS X comprises Berkeley Software Design Inc. Unix within an Apple-developed shell. It is very stable. It has been virus free until now, although the MP3virus.gen, as this new plague is dubbed, had not hit the so-called wild at this writing.

Those of us smug in our Mac-ness forgot one thing. The reason the Mac and OS X have avoided viruses is not because OS X is invulnerable, but rather because it is so small a target. Apple Computer Inc. has only a single-digit share of the desktop computer market. Hackers typically want to create weapons of mass destruction, so they've mostly focused on Windows. In the same vein, hackers have been busy lately breaking into high-performance research computers.

Until now, using little ol' OS X on a nice machine has felt like computing paradise, only with better graphics. With this virus discovery, it feels as if someone has lugged a smoking chainsaw into the garden.

The lesson here is that, so long as any computer or class of computer is connected to the Internet, it eventually will be a target, no matter what the operating system.

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