To firewall, or not to firewall. That is a question. For every 10 ‘net users, there are 10 to 12 answers. Some right, some wrong. What’s the big deal?
Behind the scenes thousands of ‘bots are trying to get into your machine—Mac or PC. It’s anarchy on the web and not everyone sees it.
I don’t want to sound alarmist but I am concerned about what is happening on the web and there appears to be no relief in sight.
What’s happening? PCs and Macs are being attacked by unscrupulous scum trying their best to break into your machine.
At the server level (I’m a sys admin with oversight of dozens of web sites and servers) even more attacks are taking place; attempts to break into web sites, spewing tons of email and referrer spam.
Windows PCs are so vulnerable to attacks that perhaps 500,000 (some estimates are higher) are considered ‘zombie’ PCs and are controlled by the attackers. Once they gain control of a PC, they control it sufficiently to have it send gazillions of email spam without the owner ever knowing what’s going on.
In some cases, tens of thousands of these ‘zombie PCs’ can be directed to attack a web site, overloading a server, and preventing service; known as a ‘DOS Attack’ for denial of service.
In other cases, these zombie PCs are directed to specific web site URLs to become ‘referral’ links for drugs you didn’t even know existed. Most web site owners never know the difference because the infected zombie PCs never identify themselves as a real user, but they suck up bandwidth and use the server’s resources.
All of this goes on behind the scenes, 24 hours a day, everyday, non-stop. The average user sitting at home on a cable modem or DSL connection or even a dial up modem never knows what’s going on.
Sometimes their PCs run slow, or don’t work right, and they blame it on Windows (as they should) even though the PC is simply infected by an attacker who controls it like a zombie is controlled by a voodoo witch doctor (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Where do these attacks come from? All over. Eastern Europe. The Mideast. China and Korea. Even inside the US. These attacks are difficult to stop, difficult to track down, and leave as quickly as the came. But they come back to attack again and again, trying to gain entry in a computer’s weak spot.
Are Mac users immune to all these attacks? In a word, no. Compared to poor Windows users, we live in a paradise, but it may not be a paradise for long.
Both Mac OSX and OSX Servers (Tiger or Panther) get high marks for security. I manage Windows servers, Linux servers, and Mac servers. The Mac servers get hit just as hard as others, though they cause me less ‘down time’ and worry.
These thieves, criminals, and scum who attack other computers are aiming for the most bang for the buck, and that’s Windows PCs, which are rather easily penetrated and controlled.
Notice that I haven’t even mentioned viruses yet. That’s generally a Windows phenomenon. For Mac users, the fear is that some hacker somewhere will gain access to a Mac and start the ball rolling, either through direct control, virus propagation, or some other means.
For now, Mac users have fewer worries than Windows users. Only now, after years of attacks, have Windows users begun to worry and take precautions. For millions upon millions of Windows PC users, they’re like a hungry bear feasting on a stream swollen with salmon. Easy pickings.
What can you do? Avoid Windows wherever possible is a good start. I say that to Mac users because many of us use PCs at work; even have one at home. We layer clothing to keep warm in winter, layer your protection, too.
Making sure the Mac’s built-in firewall is on is a good start. Yes, there are nay-sayers who say ‘nay,’ you don’t need a firewall. I know of few system administrators who would agree with that nonesense.
Airport Express, DSL modem, and cable modem provide some protection as another layer between your Mac (or PC) and the outside world. If you don’t need ‘root access’ on your Mac, don’t turn it on.
What can be done about those outside, third-world enemies, those Barbarians at the Gate? Not much. It’s only going to get worse. That’s my biggest fear, though it provides a measure of job security.
Governments and phone companies and internet service providers cannot control these attacks. They cannot be legislated out of existence. We have to practice ‘safe computing’ as much as safe sex.
Do you use Quicken or QuickBooks? Do you store passwords and credit card information on your Mac? How would you feel if someone could gain access (thousands are trying) and walked off with that information?
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to security. I pity Windows users because they don’t even know what’s going on. I worry about Mac users because we live in such a paradise (relatively) and may assume that ‘it could never happen to me.’