Security By Obscurity

Since I was granted VPN access at work, I decided that it was time to update my home Windows computer. Previously, I had an Intel Celeron processor running at 500 MHz, which seemed totally underpowered when my work computer has two 2.7 GHz Pentium 4 CPUs. So I went to the local PC Club franchise and spent about $500 to get a decent box running an AMD Athlon 2800+ running at 1.8 GHz. I think that that should be passable.

Installing the VPN software and all the necessary updates to Windows XP Pro led me to an observation. I think it is difficult to be an assiduous Windows user and still maintain the benevolent universe premise. After installing a spyware checker, a virus service, and 25 security updates, I was left with the feeling that the world is a dangerous place; one where identity theft and hard drive wiping are just one missed update away. The diligent users go to great lengths to keep their computers free of the bad guys; I’ve been regaled on more than one occasion with tales of the multiple layers of prophylactics that these people maintain. At the conclusion of these stories, they beam with a sense of “I’ve beat the ne’er-do-wells.”

Naturally, there are millions of Windows users who don’t install virus checkers, run firewalls, and the myriad other applications necessary to keep your Windows machine cruft-free (well, at least unexpected-cruft–free). Their boxes are likely the wonderful zombies that assist in DDOS attacks and the spread of worms. They’re blissfully ignorant and probably just reinstall Windows periodically when their machines start to get slow. They don’t know enough about computers in general or Windows in particular to feel a foreboding.

Whenever someone tells me about their sophisticated (and impenetrable until the next update) defenses, I chuckle internally and occasionally tell them about my simple defense: using Mac OS X. I don’t have any virus, spyware, or adware checkers; I only have the firewall running because it’s free and why not; and I have yet to hear about any sort of virus, worm, or trojan for the Mac OS X that wasn’t a proof of concept that wasn’t patched within days of announcement. There has never been a virus, worm, or trojan in the wild for Mac OS X. Compare that to the daily virus updates I have to download to stay ahead of the game, which updates are, by their very nature, behind the game.

By now, some among you are reflexively saying, “But that’s because the Mac isn’t worth a virus, worm, or trojan writers time due to its low market share.” Besides the speciousness of that contention, so what? The implicit premise is that once the Mac gets Windows-like market share, it too will be besieged by the demons of malware. The thing that amuses me is that the people savvy enough to make the earlier statement would never concede that Mac OS X could ever break out of the market share ghetto. To them, the Mac is consigned to being a third-tier player forever. In other words, it would be terribly secure if they followed their line of thinking. Of course, they don’t.

Even if the Mac did break into the double digits (or higher), it’s not going to be overnight. That means that, at worst, you’ve got several years of virus-, worm-, and trojan-free living. Ahh, but that’s benevolent universe premise thinking. The Internet, far from a glorious place, is in their minds a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” It makes me a little sad to think of how they don’t know what they’re missing. It has never been a better time to switch.

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