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'Flashback' Mac Malware: One More Reason to Switch to Linux

Rather than stock up on security software, concerned Mac users would do well to consider a more secure platform instead.

Given the vast numbers of Macs that are apparently infected with the Flashback Trojan malware, it's not at all surprising to see that sales of Mac security software are now skyrocketing.

Of course, after finally admitting to the problem, Apple is now reportedly working on a fix--and Kaspersky already has one.

But if I were a Mac user, I'd be nervous too. After all, Macs have long been billed by many as the secure alternative for those wary of the near-constant malware attacks on Windows.

Then, last year, we had MacDefender. Now there's Flashback. It's starting to look like Apple's "walled garden" isn't as safe as many thought it was.

Stocking up on security software is one approach to the problem, but a better one, I'd suggest, would be to consider switching to Linux instead.

'Security Through Obscurity'?

Macs, of course, are used by a relatively small portion of the desktop computing world, compared with Windows systems--roughly 7 percent, according to Net Applications--and that's surely accounted for a significant bit of the platform's security reputation over time.

Malware creators tend to try to affect as many users as they can with each attack, so Windows has historically been much more worthwhile in that respect.

That, however, appears to be changing, and Apple's extremely closed development model doesn't seem to be helping.

Both Microsoft and Apple rely at least in part on "security through obscurity," and it's increasingly clear that just isn't working. The leisurely pace at which Apple responds to these security problems, meanwhile, only makes the problem worse.

The Benefits of 'Fragmentation'

No platform under the sun is perfectly secure, but it looks like Linux is the only big desktop platform left that's still standing relatively strong.

There have been attacks on Linux over the years, of course, but for a number of reasons they typically don't have much of an effect.

First, while Linux's desktop market share is hard to pin down, users of the free and open source OS are certainly another minority compared with Windows.

Even better, though, is that Linux is so diverse, so users aren't all on a single, common operating system--instead, they're on many, many distinct distributions. That makes it much harder for a malware creator to find a worthwhile segment to target.

Strength in Numbers

Privileges are also typically assigned much more cautiously in Linux, but perhaps even more significant is the openness of the operating system's code. Where Mac users are totally dependent on Apple to recognize and act upon the problems that come up--it's notorious for dragging its feet on things like this--Linux users have the power to find, flag, and even start working on issues themselves.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: No single company can protect you as well as the worldwide community of users and developers can.

In short, Macs may have their advantages for a segment of users out there, but Linux is better on more than a few key features. Now more than ever, security is one of them.


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