Why are there no Mac viruses?

September 2, 2009: 10:53 AM ET
Image: Apple Inc.

Image: Apple Inc.

There are, as far as we know, no Mac OS X viruses in the wild.

To prove that assertion wrong, you only have to name one.

Academic proofs of concept and theoretical vulnerabilities don't count. Neither do computer worms, Trojan horses, spyware, adware, spam or any of the other nasty species in the zoology of malware.

That eliminates Inqtana-A, iBotNet, MacSweeper and a handful of other examples of Mac malware usually trotted out at this point by PC apologists. Nor can you count the 10-second Zero Day Pwn2Own Safari exploit that got so much press attention last March. None of these, strictly speaking, were viruses.

The issue comes up anew because Apple's (AAPL) latest Get a Mac ads are once again hammering Microsoft (MSFT) for those "thousands of viruses" to which its operating systems and application suites are heir. And that, in turn, has led to a resurgence of comments in this space to the effect that a) Macs are just as vulnerable as Windows machines and b) the only thing that protects them is their miniscule market share.

Those ideas, while widely promulgated on the Web, are wrong. The fact that Mac OS X represents less than 4% of the worldwide installed base of computers might explain why there are fewer Mac viruses. But it wouldn't explain why there are none.

So what's the answer?


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