I get asked this question a lot: Do Macs get viruses? And the answer is yes, they CAN get a virus. All computers can get a virus, because a virus is simply software and all computers run software. But that answer is too simple. A better question is DO Macs get viruses? And the answer to that question, as of this very minute, is no, there are no Mac viruses at this time.
Now, the inevitable next question is WHY are there no Mac viruses? And that is a very good question with three answers, and the correct answer will vary, depending on who you ask. Let me explain.
One reason Macs don’t get viruses
If you ask most Windows techies (who tend to be Apple haters), they will tell you that there are no Mac viruses because the Mac OS only makes up about 5 percent of the world market of computers, with Windows making up the other 95 percent (give or take), and the virus writers don’t want to bother with such a small user base when they can go for the big score, all those Windows computers.
We in the industry call this “Security through Obscurity.”
Another reason Macs don’t get viruses
If you ask most Apple techies (who tend to be Windows haters), they will tell you that there are no Mac viruses because Mac OS X is built atop the UNIX OS, which has been around for over 30 years, is open source (anyone can look at how it’s built) and it has been poked and prodded by the best software minds on the planet and all the holes fixed. In other words, Mac OS X is too darn secure for the virus writers to infest.
The REAL reason Macs don’t get viruses
Both reasons above are correct. The guys who write viruses for a living—and it’s a multi-million dollar industry—don’t target Macs because they go for the low fruit on the tree, and with 95 percent of the world’s computers running some version of Windows, that’s some mighty tempting fruit to go after! So yeah, they go for Windows.
But there are some virus writers out there who aren’t in it for the money, they’re in it for the fame. And somewhere, in some dark, dank basement apartment, there’s a nerd laboring away with visions of being the first one to spread the very first major Mac virus, because when the first Mac virus is found in the wild, it will be BIG news. CNN, Fox and all the networks will do a story on it. Bloggers will write about it for months, and that’s mighty strong motivation if you’re a virus writer looking for bragging rights among your buddies. So yeah, there are people gunning for Mac OS X, but they haven’t been successful yet, and I believe that’s because it’s built on UNIX and UNIX is pretty darn secure.
To recap, both answers are correct: there are way fewer Macs and they’re pretty darn secure.
Now, will there ever be a Mac virus? I think so. Will there be hundreds of thousands like there are on Windows? I doubt it, because Windows is just too big a target to resist. And like I said earlier, most virus writers are in it for the money, and writing Windows viruses gets you PAID!
Next month I’ll explain why virus writers do what they do and are so well paid for their skills. Until then, you Windows users should go update your virus definitions. You Mac users, get some work done, edit a movie, muck around with some photos, have some fun!