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OS X - Development and Darwin Discussion and questions about development for Mac OS X.

Darwin, BSD, open source, and viruses

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Member Since: Dec 06, 2006
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I was chatting with a Mac consultant who said something pretty interesting. He said the main reason OS X is so much more immune to viruses and malware is that the core and kernel are open source. So, he says, there's an entire community poking around and finding vunerabilities so Apple can patch them before any exploits are released.

So, my question is, besides the inherent strengths of a unix-based kernel, how much does open source affect OS X's security?

(I'm a newb to OS X so maybe I'm not clear on Darwin/BSD and Core/Kernel. If so, feel free to correct me.)

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I found this quote on another thread here. See the second quoted text.
Mac or PC dilemma, friends are trying to sway me.

Some have suggested that having your code open source could cause security problems. I'm sure it can as the bad guys can review the code for problems, but the open source community seems to be very proactive about solving security issues quickly.

The BSD used by Apple is based on FreeBSD. That group loosely shares its code and findings with the other BSD groups (there are several) and vice versa. The OpenBSD group is all about correctness regarding security. Their implementation is considered the most secure OS available. As I said, these groups share, so in the end Apple has the option to use the knowledge that is out there. Sometimes that is just a technique, and other times it is a known possible exploit.

There have been some published attempts to crack OS X systems. Most of them have been proof of concept that went no where. Another was a bogus download of MS Office that was not MS Office. And I recall a trojan that got litterally 2 or 3 people. That one makes me wonder if it was real. Ive been expecting a somewhat successful attack for about 2 years now and it hasn't materialized.

There have been many possible exploits. They have been patched be security updates from Apple. This is an easy process to do by any Mac user with the system privileges.
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Also, bear in mind that the Unix/FreeBSD/MacOSX/Linux file system model simply makes it harder for virus' to do their dirty deeds. Since the average user's permissions restrict them to making mods only to their own files, even if they could unwittingly unleash a virus on their Mac, all it could do is deep-six their own files, not the Mac itself.

The above is generally true, and doesn't consider the infamous "rootkit" approach, which will come to Macs sooner or later. The rising popularity of Macs is a double edged sword. As more and more of us see the light, there is a larger target out there for ego-driven hackers to aim at. Imagine the profile that could be achieved in their twisted community if you could become the first person to create something that truly wreaked havoc amongst Mac users.

The morale of the story is that we are safer than Windows users for now, and the underpinnings of Mac OS X will help keep us that way, but we should not become complacent. Practise smart computing! You may need it someday.

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