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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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RE: If it was Microsoft...
By adiposity on 9/1/2009 6:12:09 PM , Rating: 2
But what is the meaning of "secure" if nothing is truly 100% secure?

Safer == more secure?

Regardless of whether the two are synonyms, the truth is that Macs aren't "safer" unless "less likely to be targeted" means "safer."

A combination of the number of threats and their frequency with the steps you take to "secure" your system will determine your total likelihood of "infection."

The fact is, the likelihood of infection is all that really matters from an end user's point of view. And it is lower on Macs. For now.


RE: If it was Microsoft...
By Alexstarfire on 9/1/2009 6:29:12 PM , Rating: 5
I would say secure is the odds that someone could hack it provided they tried. Why you think Macs are the first to go down at a hackers convention? Windows and Linux don't usually go down until they allow user intervention. Mac goes down day 1 which is when they only allow like remote access and a lot of restrictions. If they can't get past that......

And yes, less likely to be targeted does mean safer. That's why I don't have a bodyguard protecting me 24/7 from assassins. I doubt someone would waste the resources to do that since I'm a nobody. Takes more effort to kill someone with security forces, ironic enough, than it does me, yet I'm far safer from being killed.

RE: If it was Microsoft...
By adiposity on 9/1/2009 6:41:19 PM , Rating: 2
Ok, I don't really disagree with anything you said.

However, you do realize, that in the dictionary, secure and safe are basically synonyms, right?

So, you are working with a computer definition that is different from the general definition. If so, that's important to state upfront, rather than just telling someone two synonyms aren't synonyms.

Perhaps you meant to use the term "secured." That term is better, perhaps, as it implies steps have been taken to make something safer, rather than just measuring inherent safety.


"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller

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