Norton Anti-Virus makes Mac OS X less secure?

Summary:commentary Apple Macintosh users could be making themselves less secure by installing Symantec's flagship anti-virus application. On Tuesday, Symantec admitted that all versions of Norton Anti-Virus (NAV) contain a security vulnerability that could allow a malicious user to remotely take control of the computer.

commentary Apple Macintosh users could be making themselves less secure by installing Symantec's flagship anti-virus application.

On Tuesday, Symantec admitted that all versions of Norton Anti-Virus (NAV) contain a security vulnerability that could allow a malicious user to remotely take control of the computer. This kind of announcement is common to Windows users but this flaw also affects NAV running on Apple's OS X platform.

Symantec has not yet issued a patch to fix the issue but it has updated its scanning signatures to look for applications that try to exploit the vulnerability.

The Mac is arguably more secure than Windows for a number of reasons, including its Unix-based architecture, default password protected administration rights and lower market penetration.

Mac users have not had to face any new virus threats for a number of years. The closest they have come was the malicious Renepo script, which showed that OS X has not been completely overlooked by the hacking underground.

However, despite not being targeted by malware writers, OS X users have been inundated with warnings from analysts, security vendors -- especially Symantec -- and IT administrators who all believe a serious Mac attack is on the cards.

In March, Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report predicted that as Apple increases its market share its userbase is likely to come under increasing attack. Just a week later, research group Gartner warned businesses reliant on the Mac to guard against 'spyware infestations'. Even at the University of Otago in New Zealand, where around 40 percent of the computers are Mac systems, IT security manager Mark Borrie said that although the Mac is generally safer than Windows, it still contains vulnerabilities that will be exploited.

But how long will the OS X platform remain safe? That is a question nobody seems willing or able to predict.

Security is all about managing risks. We need to figure out how much we are willing to pay for security and how that will affect users in terms of flexibility and convenience.

Symantec's latest security vulnerability highlights the fact that introducing complex code into a computer system makes that computer less secure.

While researching this article, I asked several security experts if Mac users are more or less secure once they install Norton Antivirus.

Most, such as Jo Stewart-Rattray, director of information security at Vectra Corporation, said users would be safer with NAV installed: "This is a glitch -- a flaw, just as we see in the PC world."

This time I'm afraid I have to disagree.

As the owner of a Powerbook I am faced with a dilemma. Do I pay AU$118.15 for a flawed 'security' application that is designed to protect me from threats that do not seem to exist; or do I take sensible precautions like keeping my computer behind a firewall and staying up to date with OS X patches?

For now anyway, instead of spending my money on a copy of NAV for OS X, I will be buying a big round in the pub.

What are your views? Do you use an anti-virus application on your Mac? When, if ever, do you think we will see a serious Mac virus?E-mail us at edit@zdnet.com.au and give us your thoughts.

Munir Kotadia is a Security Journalist at ZDNet Australia.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Malware, Operating Systems, Security, Symantec

About

Munir first became involved with online publishing in 1998 when he joined ZDNet UK and later moved into print publishing as Chief Reporter for IT Week, part of ZDNet UK, a weekly trade newspaper targeted at Enterprise IT managers. He later moved back into online publishing as Senior News Reporter for ZDNet UK.Munir was recognised as Austr... Full Bio

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