Are PC users diluting the IQ of the Mac community?

Are PC users diluting the IQ of the Mac community?

Summary: According to one security vendor, Mac users are at a crossroad this year: will or won't they prove to be as gullible as their PC cousins when it comes to security?

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According to one security vendor, Mac users are at a crossroads this year: if they prove to be as gullible as PC users, they will invite more attention by malware distributors.

At a time when spiraling malware threats have bombarded PC users, Mac users have been able to kick back and relax. 2007 saw 5.5 million viruses -- including variants -- on the hunt for vulnerable PCs, meanwhile threats to Mac users remained minuscule by comparison: two.

Still, the emergence of that pair has prompted speculation that Mac users will likely be targeted more in the coming year. If that turns out to be the case, it begs the question: will they respond to these threats better than PC users have over the years?

Senior technology consultant from security vendor Sophos Graham Cluley reckons this new challenge will make or break the notion that Mac users are more savvy than their PC cousins. "Mac users have for years prided themselves on making smarter decisions than their PC cousins -- well, now's their chance to prove it," he said.

Or is it?

So far, threats to Mac users have suffered from having convoluted delivery mechanisms, which require a person to take big and careless steps to become infected -- not only accepting candy from strangers but then inviting them home for a nightcap.

The DNS changing Mac trojan, while dangerous if installed, was one example of a virus undermined by a convoluted delivery mechanism. Unlike threats to PCs, which are increasingly transmitted via stealthily injected code from seemingly innocuous Web sites, this Mac danger relied on temptation, trickery and end-user permission. As one ZDNet.com.au reader pointed out, only a "daft fool" would fall for this.

The other notable Mac scam was the scareware discovered last week -- Macsweeper -- which attempts to cajole a would-be victim into paying for software that guarantees to find a flaw on the Mac, but otherwise does nothing. Again, a little disconcerting, but I wonder how many Mac users, let alone daft PC users, would have fallen for this one.

Then again, what constitutes a Mac user -- thanks to the iPhone and iTouch -- is changing. iPhone and iTouch users, whether die-hard Mac fans or new recruits, have shown a willingness to take risks by downloading software to crack their new toys. Surely this is not typical Mac user behaviour.

The popularity of these devices is broadening the appeal of Macs: not only is it bringing the platform a bigger user base -- enticing for cybercriminals -- but, if Apple's ads are correct, those new recruits are likely podgier, less stylish and less intelligent.

So maybe, just maybe, if Mac users fail the security test this year, it won't prove that they are more gullible than PC users, but that the new recruits have diluted the security IQ of the Mac community, as a result of the mass immigration from PC world to Mac world.

Either way, Paul Ducklin, Sophos's CTO, reckons that if Mac users fail the test, it will be like throwing chips to a flock of seagulls: feed them and they will come back, starve them and they will be snubbed.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Malware, Reviews, Security

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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13 comments
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  • Phishing is getting sophisticated

    It does not matter what operating system you use people can get stung by phishing sites.If you did not look carefully at the web address of this site http://secure-myspace.com/index.cfmfuseaction=blog.view&friendID=6463587&blogID=18376489.htm
    then you would think that you are logging into myspace. Instead you logging into some site in China, stealing your Myspace logon id and password
    anonymous
  • Lets get real here -- forget the web hit count.

    If I drop my PC, it can break. Period. Stupid people can do stupid things. But virsuses do it behind the scenes and automatically. There is a big difference here. And lets talk numbers too.

    If we use the numbers here and say that Vista decreases viruses for PCs by a factor of 50 percent we will still have millions of hits.

    If Apple gets a 500 percent increase, they will go from 2 trojans to 10 trojans. HMMMMMM????

    It sounds like the pcs are in such a world of hurt that there is just no comparing the two.

    Just a thought.
    anonymous
  • Waiting for the first attack on my Mac

    I am still waiting for the first attack...BTW i surf to all the adult sites and looking for a dmg to download and I am still being disappointed. Yea maybe I will get lucky this year, who knows?hahahahaha
    anonymous
  • virus on my mac

    I use macs daily (and nightly...) since 1992 and I got my first and last virus in 1995. Boring, isn't it?
    anonymous
  • Still going on about it?

    Why does everyone bring "<some large number> of PC viruses" into this? Don't people realize it means nothing?

    What we should really be concentrating on is the number of exploits: remote, browser related, etc.

    A system is only as strong as its weakest link, and if the weakest link is the person in control of the machine then it doesn't matter how good an OS is.

    As for this whole Mac community IQ vs PC community IQ. STFU.
    anonymous
  • If anything

    If anything, it shows Mac users fall for cheap marketing tricks very easily.
    anonymous
  • Bogus

    Bogus - cited sources do not appear on Sophos' site - Who sues whom?
    anonymous
  • Ziff Davis... shame on you!!!

    Your downward slide has turned into a slither.

    Once you were regarded - now you're....

    You can figure out the rhyme - If you can't, go ask Ducklin, or perhaps you can get a Cluley!
    anonymous
  • Rubbish

    What a complete load of rubbish. I use mac so I think I'm smart. Total load of crap. Maybe if they used linux or actually programmed something for mac you could start talking IQ's but really mac usurs are just as likely to do as their instructed to keep things running properly just as much as anyone else. I've seen/been in many sub-cultures with the whole I'm-into-something-different-therefore-am-better-
    or-smarter-or-whatever and it's all BS. Really.
    anonymous
  • Mac users are no smarter than PC users...

    Au contraire...

    They spend a vast amount of money to get "sleek looks" (which I personally find boring, plastic-like, and indurable) and an "easy to use" interface.

    the only reason there haven't been developed that many trojans and viruses for Mac's yet, is because of the size of the market.

    But believe me when i say this:

    It is NOT impossible to make trojans for macs OR linux in general for that matter.

    It may be trickier, but if you have the skills and knowledge, you couldn't care less about what OS lies on top of the actual hardware.

    Who said trojans and viruses are only written for software ? Would it be impossible to concieve of the idea that there could be much worse "stuff" floating around out there than a simple piece of scam-software ?

    Apple users and PC users are no different when it comes to intelligence in general. neither are Mac users more "savvy" than the average PC users, they are just less "out there" :-)

    now this is for all the Mac users reading this:

    If you're not using your Mac for PRO graphics or sound, why did you choose it ? Because of the looks ? because of the "easy to use - interface" ? Or because you know jack-shit about computers but still want to look cool in a classroom...

    I hate Mac's... POS. :-)
    anonymous
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    chaitalimorey
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    neharaj123