For the most part, Windows PCs catch plenty of malware; viruses, trojans, spyware. Macs do not.
Should Mac users be required to run virus protection software to help prevent the spread of Windows viruses? That’s a good question.
For part of May and June, the Mac360 crew of Tera, Bambi, Alexis, Jack and Carol has turned over some of the writing to a few avid Mac360 readers.
Following up on my series of articles on FUD (or, the newly christened FUDD), I pose a serious question:
What is the moral and ethical obligation of the Mac user when it comes to viruses?
A simple enough question, but when posed to the Mac community at large, there are many surprising answers being offered. In my recent article about Macs and Viruses, I said the following in response to the new myth that Mac users must now use Anti-virus software…
“Although these things would be advisable to make sure Mac users are good netizens, it is simply not true that they have to do them. Since there are currently no successful malware attacks in the wild, the Mac is currently enjoying a relatively trouble-free existence on line.”
It is true, however, that a Mac user can accidentally pass on a file which is infected with a Windows virus or Trojan.
While this malware does not affect the Mac, it can infect a Windows PC.
Mac users should demonstrate good practices and use a Virus Scanning tool to find and remove Windows malware from files before passing them onto Windows computers. ClamXav is a popular, free anti-virus program for Mac OS X.”
One read responded, “I see no reason to run anti virus software on a Mac. windows users should have their own anti virus software installed, updated, and running at all times. If they don’t, they will suffer the consequences, whether or not Mac users protect them.”
Another stated, “Mac users have no obligation to windows users running without basic security.”
And yet another wrote, “I simply must disagree with the author’s assertion that Mac users should run ClamXav just to be a good “netizen”. Why? Shouldn’t those windows users be protecting themselves, and if they are not, do they not deserve whatever they get?”
To repeat the initial question, what is the moral and ethical obligation of the Mac user when it comes to viruses? For some of us, the animosity we feel towards Windows tends to color our emotions, and we figure Windows users deserve whatever they get, because, hey, they’re using Windows! Right?
I have been there, and I have felt that. Having been a long time Windows user, I suffered through years of dealing with Windows issues, and still do as an ISP support technician. When I made the jump to the Mac, and my eyes were opened to just how much better the Mac was than my life with Windows, I used to take every opportunity to slam the old Operating System.
A friend’s computer crashed? Laugh and point out that Mac’s don’t have to be restarted as often. Another friend’s computer is constantly in a state of being tweaked so he can run the latest game? Laugh and point out the fact that I don’t have to tweak my Mac to run games.
Besides, I’m too busy actually being productive to bother with playing a lot of games. A co-worker’s computer is down again with another virus/worm/spyware infestation? …you get the picture. The “Mac Superiority Complex” tends to be worse for those who have suffered most under Windows.
Over time, my animosity against Windows has cooled. I understand that, despite all of its problems, Windows has its place in the computing world. It suffers from poor design, and can be a real bear to maintain, but it does have its place. So does this mean that Mac users have an obligation to protect Windows users from malware problems?
The simple answer is no. Windows users should learn how to properly use and maintain anti-virus software, and anti-spyware tools and learn how to protect their Windows machines with the proper use of Firewall software.
They should learn to recognize and avoid phishing scams and Social Engineering scams so their computers won’t become infected through their own missteps. But with the installed base being so large, it is literally impossible to have every Windows user knowing how to do this.
Remember, some users just want to use Email and browse a few web pages. They’re not computer owners because they want to become network engineers.
So, Mac users have to protect the users of Windows computers who don’t know how?
It’s not that simple. In the big picture, Mac users can’t do much to protect Windows users.
By using Anti-virus software on our Macs, we may only stop a small fraction of the threats that any Windows user may face. But some threats to Windows machines, such as those which can turn a Windows PC into a remote zombie, CAN affect Mac users in one very significant way.
We all share the Internet, Macs, Windows PC, Linux and others. We all surf pages, send & receive emails, instant message, transfer files, and purchase & download music. In order for all of this to work, we have to be able to communicate. Websites must be accessible, ISPs must be able to function, and (with apologies to Frank Herbert) the data must flow.
When zombie infected Windows PCs are commanded to initiate a Denial of Service attack (DOS attack), websites disappear from the Internet, ISPs are unable to provide service, and the data stops flowing. All computers are affected at this point.
If you’re trying to get to a certain website, but it’s being DOS attacked, you will not be able to reach it, whether you’re using a Mac or a PC. It doesn’t matter. If your ISP is being attacked, all users, regardless of OS, won’t be able to get to the net, send OR receive emails, or even instant message other people.
Mac users have no obligation to protect Windows PCs from Windows malware, however, it is in our best interest to do what we can. We can be good “netizens”, or part of the problem. Passing on infected files to Windows PCs can affect us, even if that malware can’t *infect* us. In the long run, the decision to scan and remove Windows malware is in your hands.
There may not be any current threats to the Mac OS directly, but indirectly, we can all feel the effects of Windows malware. Isn’t it a good thing to do what we can to minimize it, no matter how small?