A major new release of Apple’s Mac OS X hits the streets today. Arguably the best computer operating system ever, Leopard is ready to rock the world of Mac users everywhere.
Unfortunately, this new Mac OS may also usher in an era of danger for Mac users as hackers and virus writers rush to burst Apple’s newfound bubble of success and popularity.
Apple is a stock market darling, having just earned a valuation that’s behind only Google and Microsoft.
The public is in love with the iPhone, buying this “Jesus Phone” up in untold volumes.
And Mac computer sales are skyrocketing, causing the market-share numbers of PC-based computer makers like Dell and HP to crumble.
Leopard is the being hailed by the popular technology press as both the best implementation of Unix and the best user-oriented computer operating system ever.
This is the Age of Apple.
Every other technology maker is struggling to capture even a sense of the magic that this company effortlessly wields.
However, there is potentially a dark side to this happy story that we long-smug Mac users must be wary of: viruses.
There have been only a handful of viruses that ever affected the Mac OS in two decades, and none for the current-generation Mac OS X.
This isn’t because the Mac OS is a particularly virus-proof environment. It’s just because not enough people use the Mac to warrant virus writers’ attentions.
As a result, unlike Windows-based PCs, Macs generally don’t require anti-virus software. To date, we really haven’t needed the stuff.
That’s about to change, however.
Most virus writers operate with a mixed bag of values that include heavy doses of ego, pride, animosity, and conceit. Their goal is to win community recognition by composing smart, elegant attacks on computers that do massive, widespread damage.
That’s why Windows is such a popular operating systems for hackers. The potential negative impact, and therefore the level of recognition, for virus writers, is huge with such a large user base.
To date, hacking the Mac OS wouldn’t win anyone much attention.
However, with Apple riding a wave of public and market popularity, and with the user base growing in leaps and bounds, the table is set for all variety of nefarious computer evildoers to win their places in the hacker history books.
Furthermore, Apple hasn’t exactly been sending warm fuzzies to the hacker community lately.
Their famously popular iPhone is infamously closed to developers. Such unsubstantiated protectionism is driving the hacker community to “unlock” the iPhone with the intent of winning full control of these devices.
However, a recent iPhone software update from Apple effectively turned 250,000 of these hacked handheld computers into unusable bricks. The hacker community is seething with anger and is primed for an all-out assault on the computer maker in search of vengeance.
Leopard is the perfect environment to target such retaliation at. And we smug Mac users are primed to have this blissful smile wiped from our collective mug.
With its initial release, Leopard is guaranteed to have security holes that are just ripe for exploiting.
Without a doubt, the hacker community will be spending this weekend tearing Leopard apart, looking for such weaknesses.
Leopard will be in the public eye for some time, as it’s being hailed as such a powerful yet usable computer operating system.
The international media will be looking for any story angle that might take the sheen off of Apple’s turtle-waxed public image.
As a result, the first hacker to split Leopard open will win widespread recognition in the mainstream international media and de facto acclaim in the hacker community.
Now, there’s a way to pump up the ego.
All of this said, there’s no reason not to install Leopard in the short term. I’ll be tearing open my copy and installing it as soon as Purolator drops it off at my door today.
However, we Mac users need to learn to exercise caution in dealing with files on our computers. Most viruses are activated by actions committed by a computer’s operator.
So don’t open email attachments that have arrived from suspicious sources. And be wary of the materials you download from the internet. In fact, don’t double-click anything that comes from a source you can’t completely trust.
It may also be wise to finally invest in some anti-virus software for your Mac and keep it up to date. Oddly enough, there’s a good selection of both commercial and free solutions available already.
There’s no doubt that Leopard is a wise (and, at just $129, inexpensive) investment to make in terms of empowering your Mac making it easier to use. I’d advise anyone with a recent Mac computer to upgrade with confidence.
However, with its popularity and power, Leopard represents a new era for the Mac. We should all prepare for the good and bad of the days to come.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, October 26, 2007.