Guest editorial by Costin Raiu
In every system designed by man, there is always a balance between features, usability and security. While designing pretty, easy to use and secure systems is possible, quite often this is not what the users get, or worse, this is not what the users want.
The most popular example of this applies to Apple. Focusing on eye-catching designs and easy to use products, Apple is listed in almost every marketing book as a success story.
Interestingly, maybe their second most popular software product, Mac OS X (after iTunes) represents a curious blend between eye-catching, easy to use, flexible, usable and decently secure, modern operating system. Please notice how I avoided saying “secure” and instead, wrote “decently secure”. Not wanting to start a holy war, I’d like to state that no operating system is bulletproof. Or, if an operating system even remotely tries to achieve that, nobody really wants to use it. Take VMS for instance; it was maybe one of the most secure operating systems ever design, yet, it was a pain to use. Ten years ago, in my University, the people doing schoolwork on VMS dreamed of doing it on Linux. Yet, a computer running VMS with 4MB of RAM and a 40MB hard drive could host 50 concurrent users, while a similar Linux computer started having issues with more than 10 users. VMS was not only secure, but it was resource efficient as well. It was that good. Yet, it went into oblivion, just like it will happen to any other secure but a-pain-to-use OS.
With Windows 7, Microsoft made an interesting move. The developer of the most attacked operating system in the world decided to turn off an age-old option. This was one of the options that made the operating system easier to use but much, much more insecure. I’m talking of course about Windows AutoRun.
You can imagine my surprise when I got the following message from iTunes, while plugging my iPod to transfer some newly purchased albums:
So, iTunes detected that my system was more secure but less usable, and decided that maybe it’s a good idea to change that back! My surprise was even bigger after seeing the following message from iTunes:
Therefore, even if AutoRun is off, iTunes will still recognize my CDs!
With that in mind, Apple’s decision with iTunes doesn’t make any sense. It took Microsoft more than 25 years to finally understand how important security is, and then it took them another 5 years to understand that AutoRun was inherently flawed and insecure, so it needs to be deactivated by default.
As I was saying, Apple is a success story when it comes to combining easy to use technology with eye catching design, while keeping it also decently secure. It is a real pity though when somebody finds slips like the one above. Will it also take them 5 or 10 or even 25 years or so to understand the dangers of AutoRun?
I certainly hope not.
* Costin Raiu is chief security expert in Kaspersky Lab's Global Research & Analysis Team.