• Is Mac OS X Really Safer Than Windows?

    Google's decision to ban Windows on its corporate PCs - reported in the Financial Times yesterday and reverberating around the blogosphere ever since - is reopening an old and fractious debate: is Mac OS X actually safer than Windows? Google's decision was reportedly based on security concerns in the wake of the Chinese hack that knocked out the company's servers for a day. Google is refusing comment, saying only that "we do not comment on specific operational matters."

    In December of last year, Google came under what they referred to in a blog posting as "a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property." The attack was found to involve nearly a dozen pieces of malware and several levels of encryption that the hackers used to hide inside Google's network. A significant "vector," or means of carrying the malware into the network core, involved a hole in IE6. "Based upon our investigations," Mike Reavey, Microsoft's director of security response wrote in a Security Advisory after the attack, "we have determined that Internet Explorer was one of the vectors used in targeted and sophisticated attacks against Google."

    Though Google is keeping mum, many observers are concluding that the company has concluded that Windows is too insecure, and is requiring CIO (corporate information officer)-level approval before letting anyone keep their Windows box. New users get a choice between Mac OS X or Linux, with most opting for a Mac. According to the FT story, one employee is quoted as saying "Linux is open source and we feel good about it," adding: "Microsoft we donít feel so good about."

    The rain-on-your-wedding-day irony of Google users flocking to its arch-nemesis Apple's OS is lost on few pundits and Apple fanbois. But is the OS more secure by its very nature? Many security experts disagree. Charlie Miller, back-to-back-to-back winner of the Pwn2Own competition, is one of them, and he speaks from experience. "Hacking into Macs is so much easier," he told ZDNet's Ryan Naraine. "You donít have to jump through hoops and deal with all the anti-exploit mitigations youíd find in Windows." And for ten-thousand-spoons-when-all-you-need-is-a-knife, it's hard to beat Intego releasing a new Mac security warning on the same day the Google news broke.

    Jonny Evans, writing for Computerworld, strikes what is probably the best balance between fanboi-ism and Mac-phobia: he points out that over-reliance on one operating system - any OS - is an invitation to disaster. In other words, even in the very unlikely case that Mac OS X or Linux becomes as ubiquitous as Windows, we'd be in the same place. Monoculture is dangerous.
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