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Is Apple's Snow Leopard as attack proof as the company believes? Probably not, but it does add some significant protections. Security companies, though, are coming out with criticism against Apple's efforts, in what seems a mix of sour grapes and legitimate points.  (Source: Simple Thoughts -- Computer Security Blog)
Are security firms' Snow Leopard gripes legitimate or just sour grapes? The answer may be be that they are a bit of both..

Just as attacks against Macs were beginning in earnest, and security software makers were ready to step into this new market and begin selling customers security suites, Apple dropped a bomb on the security software vendors -- OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" comes with built-in malware detection for a few Mac-specific viruses.

Apple, which has long lambasted Windows PCs as dangerously insecure in its advertisements, brags that its new OS offers unmatched protection against malware and cyber-attacks.  It points to hardware-based execution control for heap memory, stronger checksums for preventing memory corruption attacks, and built in antivirus protection -- dubbed XProtect -- as strong improvements in its OS design.

Now security companies are responding to Apple's boasts via blogs and emails that range from skeptical to scathing. 

Symantec was among the most critical, stating, "It is not a full-featured antivirus solution and does not have the ability to remove malware from the system.  File Quarantine is also signature-based only. Malware signatures are only as good as the definitions, requiring Apple to provide regular, timely updates."

The company points out that OS X's Software Update is not fully automatic and that it does not inform users what signatures have been downloaded, to indicate the current level of protection.  They also criticize that Apple's firewall is turned off by default and lacks the configurability of most third-party solutions.  Also they point out that the OS provides little to no protection against unauthorized access of sensitive information on disc or for information being transmitted over networks.  Finally, they say that Apple's reliance on site lists for its anti-phishing efforts make its blocking close to useless as the attacking sites typically change on a daily basis.

Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security, also criticized the new software. "It feels like they are just trying to put a tic mark in the anti-malware compliance box for the enterprise customers they are still trying to woo.  So far, it looks like a pretty 'featureless feature.' Compared to other third party options, the functionality is pretty low. It's a lot like getting a warranty on your car that only covers floor mats, " he remarks.

Sophos researcher Paul O Baccas takes a more measured approach, stating that Apple's XProtect may be somewhat useful for certain programs -- Entourage, Safari, Mail, Firefox, Thunderbird -- which call LSQuarantine, an XProtect utility that detects malware.  However, for Skype, Adium, BitTorrent and Apple's Finder -- USB drives, shared network volumes, etc. -- there is no protection, he conversely points out.  He elaborates, "They haven't really integrated an antivirus program.  They've added something which can block some malware under some conditions."

He does say that the changes are better than nothing, however.  Apple meanwhile, refused to directly respond or comment on the criticism from security software vendors.

Security vendors will be facing a double-whammy when Microsoft officially releases its more full-featured security solution for Windows XP, Vista, and the new Windows 7.  Microsoft is set to drop this free security suite, dubbed Microsoft Security Essentials, before the end of the year.

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By Martel on 9/1/2009 10:53:00 AM , Rating: 3
After all these years, it's beyond insanity to continue the Windows vs. Mac security nonsense. Neither system is inherently secure and it's quite likely that neither will ever be inherently secure.

On the other hand - in the space-time continuum in which we all live - there is only one side to this issue.

MacOSX systems are secure in the real world; but that's only because they aren't under attack and that could easily change tomorrow; or 5 years from now. Windows systems are typically not secure in the real world TODAY because there are more attack vectors than any organization could reliably count...and any currently updated defense against those attacks can never be perfect even when it's actually in use, which is the case on only about one-quarter to one-third of Windows systems.

The real question with which all Windows users should be concerned has nothing to do with Macs, since there's no problem there - at the moment. That real question is: when will everyone who uses a Windows system be smacked in the face enough times by hackers and those working to defeat the hacks that they will run high quality, currently updated anti-virus software, ALL THE TIME AND ON EVERY SYSTEM?

At the very least, when will they stop pretending that their personal computers don't always need such security, even if their office systems do? And when will ALL businesses become unfailingly serious about enforcing system security measures on all of their systems?

Oh yeah, one more thing. Fanboys. Listen up. Leave the tech discussions to people with some intelligence, knowledge and common sense. Go write some love-letterish emails to Sarah Failin or John Boner instead; and bear in mind that although it's permissible to express your opinion, not all opinions are created equal. Most of them are worthless, and you become an object of scorn when expressing one of those. (I say that as if it were possible for such people to either feel or comprehend the resulting shame...but it's always worth a shot.)

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs

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