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Apple's antivirus advice 'big to-do about nothing,' says researcher

Even noted exploit-finder Charlie Miller doesn't bother protecting his Macs

December 2, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Apple Inc. recently recommended that Mac users consider running antivirus software -- a move some see as a change of heart by the computer maker, which has poked fun at Windows for being susceptible to attacks.

That's off the mark, one security researcher said today, as he argued that the attention given the terse Apple support document is much ado about next to nothing.

The chatter started after Apple posted a short notice on its support site on Nov. 21. "Apple encourages the widespread use of multiple antivirus utilities so that virus programmers have more than one application to circumvent, thus making the whole virus-writing process more difficult," Apple said in the note before listing three packages from McAfee Inc., Symantec Corp. and Intego, a much smaller security vendor that specializes in Mac software.

Apple's notice was reported by virtually every Mac-centric technology blog, publication and Web site, and it was noted by several security companies, including Intego. In a post to the its blog last Tuesday, Intego said: "It is worth noting this, since Apple, especially in its recent 'Get a Mac' ads, has always publicly tried to ignore the threat of malware to Macs, as well as other security issues. We can only applaud the fact that Apple has chosen to recognize that Macs face security risks and that they require protection."

The "Get a Mac" marketing campaign has included at least two advertisements that drubbed Microsoft Windows for its higher profile among virus writers and identity thieves. In one from 2006, dubbed "Viruses," John Hodgman, the writer and humorist who plays the "PC" character, says, "You'd better stay back... last year there were 114,000 known viruses for PCs" as he stifles a sneeze.

"PCs, not Macs," counters Justin Long, the actor who portrays the "Mac" character.

(The ad can be viewed on Apple's site, or on YouTube.)

Sam Masiello, the vice president of information security at MX Logic, essentially echoed Intego's take in a blog post of his own today.

"This move was inevitable," said Masiello of the Apple notice. "At some point, Macs would gain enough market share for them to become more of a target for hackers and cybercriminals. Most security researchers have been saying that for a long time, and I applaud Apple for finally coming to that realization also, even though it really should have been said some time ago."

Not so fast, said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security Inc. "If it wasn't for the fact that Apple has been so smug around malware and viruses and such, this would not have been such a big deal," he said. "This is just making a big to-do about nothing."

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